The Mathematics of The Triangle Offense, Continued…

In a previous post, I showed how given random positions of 5 players on the court that they could “fill” the triangle. The main geometric constraint is that 5 players can form 3 triangles on the court, and that due to spacing requirements, these triangles are “optimal” if they are equilateral triangles.

Given that we now know how to fill the triangle, the question that this post tries to address is that how can players actually move within the triangle. The key is symmetry. Players must all move in a way such that the equilateral triangles remain invariant. Equilateral triangles have associated with them the D_{3} dihedral symmetry group. They are therefore invariant with respect to 120 degree rotations, 240 degree rotations, 0 degree rotations, and three reflections.

There are therefore six generators of this group:
\left( \begin{array}{cc} 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \\ \end{array} \right), \left( \begin{array}{cc} -\frac{1}{2} & -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} -\frac{1}{2} & \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right), \left( \begin{array}{cc} \frac{1}{2} & \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} -1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} \frac{1}{2} & -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right).

In fact, the Cayley graph for this group is as follows:


For now, I will discuss how players can move within the action of 120 degree rotations. As in the previous posting, let the (x,y)-coordinates of player i be represented by (x^{i}, y^{i}), where i = 1,2,3,4,5. Then, under a 120 degree rotation, the player’s coordinates get shifted according to:

\boxed{x^{i}_{t+1} = \frac{1}{2} \left(-x^{i}_{t} - \sqrt{3}y^{i}_{t}\right), \quad y^{i}_{t+1} = \frac{1}{2}\left(\sqrt{3}x^{i}_{t} - y^{i}_{t}\right)}

This is a discrete dynamical system. In fact, it can be solved explicitly. Let x^i_{0}, y^{i}_{0} represent the initial coordinates of player i. Then, one solves the above discrete system to obtain:

\boxed{x^i_t =\frac{1}{2} e^{\frac{1}{3} (-2) i \pi t} \left[\left(1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) x^i_0+i \left(-1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) y^i_0\right], \quad y^{i}_{t} =\frac{1}{2} e^{\frac{1}{3} (-2) i \pi t} \left[\left(1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) y^i_0-i \left(-1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) x^i_0\right]}

Now, we can simulate this to see actually how players move within the triangle offense, forming equilateral triangles in every sequence:


This is running in continuous time, that is, endlessly. In future postings, I will update this to include the other symmetries of the dihedral D_{3} group. However, the challenge is that this symmetry group is non-Abelian, so it will be interesting to implement pairs of consecutive symmetry operations in a simulation that would still result in invariant equilateral triangles.

Hopefully, this post also shows why teams cannot really run “parts” of the triangle, as one player’s movement necessarily effects everyone else’s. This is something that Charley Rosen also mentioned in an article of his own.  


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Sikh, Theoretical and Mathematical Physicist, main research in the structure and dynamics of Einstein's field equations.

2 thoughts on “The Mathematics of The Triangle Offense, Continued…”

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