The picture above was the headline on ESPN.com yesterday and accompanied Zach Lowe’s article on the Knicks. I am a big Kristaps Porzingis fan, and a frequent reader of this site is the scout for the Knicks who pushed Phil Jackson to draft him. I made the outlandish comment this summer at NBA Summer League that I felt that Porzingis had a more effortless three-point shot when entering the NBA than Dirk Nowitzki. To me, Kevin Durant’s three-point shot was a better comparison: Completely connected, well-organized, extremely coordinated. Beautiful.
Look at his eyes in this picture. This is my problem with the triple threat. Now, one does not have to look at the floor in a triple threat position, but it happens frequently.
We teach the triple threat because players need the ability to pass, shoot, and dribble. However, from this position, what is Porzngis going to do? He isn’t going to pass; if he were to pass, he would change his body posture and ball positioning prior to passing. He could shoot from this position, but that is primarily because he is 7’3; a high school player in this position with a defender this close would not shoot (hopefully). It certainly would not be a shot that I would want any player on my team to shoot, unless he had the talent of Porzingis. This is where the NBA differs from the basketball that we teach children. When you are 7’3 and super-skilled, isolating you on a mediocre, smaller defender is a good strategy, but that is not how we teach the game to children. Therefore, because NBA players use the triple threat and jab steps when isolating on the wing does not mean that children need to learn these skills.
In all likelihood, Porzingis will dribble from this position. He could sweep low and drive to the baseline side or he could use one dribble with his left hand to create more space for a step-back jump shot or he could attack hard with his left-hand dribble and a crossover step with his right foot. Without changing body posture or ball positioning, I would bet that one of these three is the most likely outcome.
I do not teach the triple threat because I do not run isolation plays for my players, and I believe that the true triple threat position is used primarily for players to make their own offense. Once the defense closes out, shooting is only an option for the absolute best or most selfish players or after a dribble. Therefore, this idea that young players have three options with the ball when defended is inaccurate. Again, I do not want my players taking a contested shot, even if they jab first to create a small amount of space. If the player wanted to shoot, his best option would have been before the defender closed out. Use the advantage on the catch.
Therefore, this position is the double threat position. But, not really. As I said above, if Porzingis is going to pass, he would change his body posture and ball position. When players run plays, and know that they are a passer, they do not bend into this triple threat position; they stand taller in order to see over their defender to the cutter where they are supposed to pass the ball. When players inbound the ball, they do not squat into a triple threat position; they stand tall to see over and around the defense. If triple threat position was the optimal position to pass, wouldn’t we teach all players throwing inbound passed to get into triple threat position first?
When I watch high school games, in which most teams are running plays, players receive the pass and put the ball above their heads. Personally, I hate this. It shows that you are a passer, and good defense can knock you off-balance easily. However, players do this because it is a functional position to hold the ball, protect the ball from their defenders, and see the court to find the person to whom they are supposed to pass the ball in their play. Rarely do players actually triple threat because, as with Porzingis, they are not in a good position to see around or over their defender or to throw a pass. Personally, I call turnovers in practice when players put the ball over their head; instead, I want what I call the Hard2Guard position, which is with a more erect posture and the ball around the armpit or shoulder. The larger point, however, is that players rarely use a true triple threat position to pass, and honestly, the game is taught so that players really do not have the option to pass, shoot, or drive anyway because they are running a play with a designated shooter (video below).
Vanderbilt runs nice plays, but nobody uses a triple threat position. A few players come close to a triple threat, but none has a triple threat. They are passers until the final cut, and the cutter is a shooter. Most stand fairly erect with the ball above their waist; that is not the triple threat position that I was taught, but it is functional because they are running a play, and they know they are passers.
The video below shows a ball-screen dominated offense. Again, I saw one player who you could argue used a triple threat position, and that was as he waited for the on-ball screen to be set. Again, he really did not have three options; he was waiting to dribble. Otherwise, every other player on the catch had anticipated his opening and either caught the ball and drove immediately (or initiated the drive before the catch) or caught the ball and shot immediately. No need for a triple threat. Use the advantage.
The triple threat is unimportant to me for these reasons. When a player receives a pass, he is most open to drive or shoot. When he waits, and allows the defender to get into good position, he is a passer. I want passers to have a more erect posture to see the court and be prepared to pass. In my system, he had his chance to shoot or drive; he declined, and now it is time to move the ball to the next player. Occasionally, the defense might overplay or he could sweep and go, but he does not need to sit in a static low position in order to drive against an overplay.
The triple threat was created because players needed somewhere to hold the ball when running their plays. Therefore, it’s not really a triple threat, except with NBA players. Players use functional positions for the task that they are planning to perform; when they plan to pass, they stand more upright. When they want to isolate and drive, they stay lower in a triple threat position. Rather than demand that players always catch and triple threat, thus forfeiting their biggest advantage (most open on the catch), we should tweak their functional positions when necessary and otherwise focus attention on anticipating their play. Their anticipation will inform their choices of the most functional position to use.
Of course, my viewpoint is dictated by my style of play (SABA). It is based on my beliefs of good offense. Because I believe that players are most open on the catch and that we should exploit advantages rather than wait for the defense to re-set, the triple threat is unimportant. If you run set plays, especially set plays designed to get the ball into the low post, triple threat has more value. I simply think that we spend too much time trying to get players into a certain position that is not the most functional position from which to execute the skill that is most likely to occur next. I also think that a jab step into a shot is a terrible shot for all but the 1%, so I suppose that I think differently about that too, and that belief renders the triple threat obsolete for me, as I have just eliminated the shot once the player is defended.