Explain One Play Mailbag #9: Split Cuts and the Triangle Offense

Those famous Kerr Split Cuts

A list of all Explain One Play articles and videos is at The new Explain One Play index.

Split Cuts and the Triangle Offense?

Jonah Stein says: Can you compare this split cut to the triangle? It seems to be the same concept but with more screening.

Same spiritual roots, and in fact the basic split cut is from the Triangle. But the Triangle has a lot more 5-man automatics and a specific spacing. In one of my past videos, which I might re-do in the new format, I show video of Steve Kerr running the split cuts with the Bulls.

I'm not an expert but I can follow the basic options. There's a strong side triangle with post, corner and wing. There's a weak side two man game. The ball enters to the post, and the there are automatic reads of the defensive pressure on the strong side. The ball can swing to the two man game on the weak side. The post can cross the off-ball lane to start a three man game on the other side. Sometimes the corner cuts through to make a triangle on the weak side.

Kobe often manipulated the triangle so he could get the two man weak side game and then turn that into an iso. 

Triangle is flexible, but issues are: (1) it takes a LOT of cooperation and reads, (2) it goes away from pressure so D can force the ball to weak O options, (3) the traditional geometry is not good for getting 3s. 

Recognizing Split Cuts?

rcknfn says: Eric, is the play starting at 9:41 remaining in 1st quarter also a split cut (or a variation of it)? One thing different is that low-man (Steph) sets pin-down screen for mid-man (Wiggs) - as compared to mid-man doing for lo-man in your video - but otherwise it looks similar although positioned differently on the court.

The Play: https://www.nba.com/stats/events/?GameEventID=40&GameID=0022000266&Season=2020-21&flag=1&title=Curry%2031%27%203PT%20Jump%20Shot%20(3%20PTS)%20(Green%201%20AST)&sct=plot

Yes, it’s the three-man split cut. The key feature is one man dives and the other man pops out with the pindown. As you say, the only difference is how Steph and AW triggered the dive-pop.

We can’t be certain of the precise instructions. I think it is often a read and react, but sometimes it’s a scripted outcome, especially after a timeout. I believe the fundamental action is two men come together, one pops with a third man pindown, the other dives. Everything up to that can be planned or improvised.

I assume two man coming together and 'splitting' involves one of the them screening for the other (seperate from pin down from third player)?

Sometimes they just bolt in opposite directions. You could consider that a slipped screen or ghost screen if you want to maintain the screening framework. Sometimes they do this funny orbiting around each other, then bolt. There are a few variations.

Explain *One* Play?

Many ask: Aren’t you covering more than one play in Explain One Play?

Honestly, a large portion of E1Ps cover lots of plays, I just am too lazy to rebrand and I like to set the expectations low... “wow he covered TWO possessions, that’s 100% bonus”, instead of “damn this guy is lazy he made a video and it only talked about ten seconds of the game”.

In fact, “Explain One Play” came about in 2015 to lower my own expectations for releasing stuff. In 2014-15 I was writing these occasional megatomes about Kerr’s schemes which were good quality but bless anyone who read the whole thing. Also, Vox Media wanted more pieces for more advertising hahaha. So I said, I’ll cover ONE possession each for each game win. That will be about 50ish spread across the season. Then the bastards reeled off 24 straight to start and won 73+15 that year.