clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Will the “positionless basketball” of the Miami Heat go the way of the Phil Jackson’s “triangle offense?”

New, comments

Touted as the future wave of the NBA, the positionless approach depends more on the personnel than it seems.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

During LeBron James’ time on the Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra cleverly devised a strategy he dubbed “positionless basketball” to win a couple of championship trophies.

“When Miami had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together for four seasons and four trips to the NBA Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra almost completely abandoned the 1-2-3-4-5 concept of assigning players certain roles and went to a positionless approach.”

After the Heat drafted Bam Adebayo in 2017, he declared he was the perfect fit in that system.

’’Positionless basketball, I compete with anybody,’’ Adebayo said. ‘’I’ve been competing against the best of the best my whole year at Kentucky.”

Last season’s Boston Celtics were seen as shining examples of its boundless possibilities, but this season’s reality sets in as the Celtics, with three All-Stars on its roster, fell to the likes of Trey Burke and the New York Knicks in their last game before Thanksgiving Day.

A game summary observed,

“Pegged as an Eastern Conference favorite after losing in the conference finals last season, Boston currently looks like a team that has lost its cohesiveness.”

Similar to the Heat’s cold start against the Brooklyn Nets, “Boston missed its initial 10 3-point attempts and 14 of its first 15” in that game.

With all due respect to Bam Adebayo, he’s no LeBron James, who can make the positionless approach work like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant made the “triangle offense” a lethal weapon years ago.

“The Triangle is fine in theory, but you need an elite post up swingman who can distribute to make it work. Barely any of those exist. Melo [Carmelo Anthony] couldn’t run it because he can’t pass anywhere close to the level of Jordan or Kobe, not because of his post up arsenal or unwillingness to run it.”

Former Celtic Isaiah Thomas agreed with that opinion.

“Most recently, Celtic guard Isaiah Thomas came out against running the triangle as well. He told Stefan Bondy of, ‘If you’re not Kobe or Shaq or Michael Jordan, the triangle offense just doesn’t work.’

“Knicks President Phil Jackson has used the triangle throughout his coaching career with Chicago and Los Angeles. The Zen master has 11 championships thanks to the triangle offense. He also can thank the players that operated it beautifully.”

Positionless basketball succeeded when Miami had three future Hall of Famers in town, but like the triangle offense, without the proper personnel to implement it, confusion, anxiety, fear and worry could result as motivational guru Earl Nightingale pointed out years ago when people lack proper leadership to guide them.

“Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn’t know where he’s going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety, fear, and worry will become what he thinks about.”

Unlike James, Jordan or Bryant the action during a game goes too fast for an NBA player with average skills to make proper split-second decisions in a complicated game plan.

Positionless worked beautifully when James was a member of the Heat, but without him on the court a simpler approach to the game, which players can clearly understand and execute flawlessly, might reduce the state of confusion Miami is currently experiencing in its disappointing 6-11 start.