When to Use the Triple Threat

by Paul Cortes
Head JV Boys Coach, Jewish Community High School of the Bay
Youth Basketball Coach, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department
AAU Coach, Bay City Basketball

This is to piggy-back off Brian’s last post on “Problems with the Triple Threat“. Brian may or may not disagree with something I post here, because my thoughts are my own, but we share similar philosophies and I agree with many of the sentiments in his post. I originally started to respond in the comments section, but as my post grew in length I decided to make a separate post. The topic that came to mind is when to use the triple threat, and how to use it correctly.

I think there are two things at odds here, and both of them to me entail bad basketball, even at the NBA level. One is stopping the ball and using the jab series while four teammates stand around and watch. This is the way that “triple threat” has been taught by some and it really is an inefficient style of play that lacks the cohesiveness of a SABA style that leads to more ball movement and more open shots. If you have an elite player with an extreme advantage, it may be useful to isolate him sometimes, although I do believe the modern elite player is most dangerous when attacking in the flow of ball movement and movement without the ball (Steph Curry says hello).

On the opposite end of the spectrum is players propensity to dribble immediately on the catch against a set defense. This is especially prevalent at the youth level. I had a youth team recently that always wanted to make one pass, immediately drive into a crowd, and turn the ball over. It took some time for them to understand that by moving the ball and moving without the ball, you move the defense and open up driving lanes, which makes the use of the dribble that much more effective.

I agree with Brian that the Triple-Threat position, when utilized correctly, is primarily a passing position. I still called it a triple threat, mostly because I want players to understand that if the defenders sags off to, say, deny an entry pass into the post, I want you to shoot, and if the defender overguards you, I want you to drive by him. Be a threat to do all three things so that the defensive has to play you respectably.

Some people call it by a different name, which is fine. Something that I feel is important is that, whatever you call it, you emphasize that players use the position when there’s no advantage. This occurs primarily in the halfcourt, when the other team has scored and has set up on defense. You should know on the catch whether you have an advantage or not.

Davidson’s Bob McKillop has 5 rules of offense that I use with my teams. They are as follows:

1) Attack space – Of course, you have the most space in transition when you have a numbers advantage, which is a situation where players should NOT Triple Threat. If there’s no space, players have to create space, and we can get more space if we, instead of individually trying to create space by using the jab series, collectively create space by moving the ball. Often teams turn the ball over trying to attack where there’s no space

2) Dribble with a Purpose – This is what I mentioned earlier. If you don’t teach the players when and how to use the Triple Threat/Hard2Guard position, they will want to put the ball down every time they catch it which keeps them from doing the following two rules

3) Help Someone Get Open – by screening for a teammate, making hard cuts, or when the gaps open up, driving and drawing help defenders

4) Catch and See – I love the phraseology of this. In the Porzingis example, his eyes are down. He’s not seeing the court. Or if you immediately dribble with nowhere to go, your court vision is reduced, and if the passer makes a great cut or gets a teammate open with a screen, you will be less likely to hit the open man on time and on target if you’re dribbling aimlessly on the catch.

5) Crash the Boards – This is less applicable to the discussion but I believe players are harder to box out when players move the ball and move without the ball instead of standing still.

In the grand scheme of things, I think the Triple Threat Position is a concept that is very important in the halfcourt offense situation against a set defense, where the offense has no advantage. It is often taught in ways that are less conducive to good offensive movement, so the coach must also emphasize the importance of not holding the ball too long and working together as a team to gain an advantage. In early offense in the halfcourt, against the set defense, coach should teach players to 1) Triple Threat on the catch so that teammates can work to get open, 2) be ready to move the ball whether it’s with a well-timed pass or a purposeful dribble.

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