Breaking Down How Steve Nash Will Run the Lakers' Princeton Offense
The Los Angeles Lakers are undergoing a series of changes that will make this season's club all but unrecognizable.
And, no, those changes aren't merely the product of roster changes. The additions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison will give the Lakers a new look to be sure, but the new offensive scheme will even cast holdovers like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in a new light.
Increased use of the so-called "Princeton offense" simply means that Los Angeles will employ more motion, both in terms of ball movement and player movement.
Lakers fans who remember facing the Sacramento Kings in the early 2000s will remember this system all too well.
But will the new system put a crimp in the styles of guys like Steve Nash, who have already become so accustomed to a different brand of offense, replete with a run-and-gun tempo and plenty of pick-and-roll situations?
Head coach Mike Brown doesn't sound too concerned (via ESPN LA's Brian Kamenetzky):
The way that we’ll put it together, Steve’s going to have an opportunity—he’s going to quarterback the team—and so he’s going to have an opportunity to come down the floor every possession, and in early offense play pick-and-roll if he wants to. It’s up to him, based on where he decides to take the ball or a call that he makes or an action that he does; it’s up to him to get us into some of the looks of the Princeton offense.
Leaving those decisions to Steve Nash isn't such a bad idea. There's arguably no one in the game today who's better equipped to make on-the-fly calls.
Nash is as adept as anyone at running the pick-and-roll and knowing when to run it in the first place. His ability to read the defense, understand personnel and adapt to situations sets him apart even from other skilled passers.
He also has a couple of big men who can set some fine picks. Gasol's soft hands and ability to shoot from mid-range make him an especially valuable cohort thanks to his ability to pop out to the wing or high post after setting a pick.
So what can we expect an average offensive possession to look like?
That all depends on the situation, if we're to take Mike Brown at his word.
When the defense appears more inclined to switch in pick-and-roll situations, Nash is likely to test his luck a few times and see if he can get Gasol some clean mid-range looks over a smaller, mismatched opponent.
When the defense doesn't switch, expect Nash to look for his own offense a bit. He only needs a sliver of daylight to get his shot off, and it may force his opponents to react differently the next time down the floor, creating opportunities for Gasol or Howard.
The beauty of the play is that it forces defenders to make decisions, and it forces them to execute those decisions in short order.
Of course, there will be times it makes more sense to run a play or simply throw the ball to Howard in the post, but there are some teams and individual defenders who struggle with containing the pick-and-roll.
Few big men are mobile enough to keep up with the likes of Howard and Gasol. For those lumbering defenders in particular, Nash could turn the play into the deadliest of weapons.
Worried about their ability to recover after the pick and follow Howard to the rim or Gasol to the perimeter, slower big men will be reluctant to step out and crowd Nash as he's receiving the pick. They need to remain glued to the big man instead of hedging. This will give Nash the space to create plays unencumbered, even if for only a moment.
That's really all he needs.
Unlike so many point guards who use picks as means to a very predetermined end, Nash excels at remaining patient and looking for the best possible play.
If the defense isn't as ripe for deploying the pick-and-roll, Nash will always have the opportunity to come back to it if a play breaks down.
Yes, we'll still see his old bag of tricks no matter what becomes of the Princeton scheme. And we'll still see Kobe Bryant isolating in clutch situations and desperate situations alike.
Though there may be significant changes to the Lakers as we know them, we're not looking at a complete overhaul. There are, after all, similarities between the new system and the Triangle offense with which several of these Lakers are already quite familiar.
The multiple moving pieces and off-the-ball cuts won't be an entirely new concept for Kobe or Gasol, and you probably don't have to worry about Nash figuring out a playbook.
Be prepared for a few surprises, but don't be surprised to see some familiar plays. These are still Kobe's Lakers, and this is still Nash's offense.
They'll keep doing the things that made them legends.
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