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Predicting Which Principles of Princeton Offense Los Angeles Lakers Will Use

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Predicting Which Principles of Princeton Offense Los Angeles Lakers Will Use
Harry How/Getty Images
"Hmmm...passing..."

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown is giddier than a schoolgirl these days. Sure, it's great that he gets another go-round with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and certainly the excitement of adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the mix must be overwhelming.

But as a former video coordinator, "stats guy" and all-around basketball nerd, Brown's new-found joy probably has as much to do with the new faces themselves as with that of which those new faces are capable.

No, I'm not talking literally about their faces, though, if you give a Dwight a cookie...

Frivolous challenges aside, Mike Brown must be thrilled that his roster is replete with players capable of and familiar with (i.e. Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace) running the Princeton offense, a scheme with which he's been "fascinated" for some time:

 

Not that anyone should expect Brown and newly-hired assistant Eddie Jordan, a Princeton proponent and pupil of the innovator Pete Carril, to make the scheme the focal point of the Lakers' offense. Such would negate (at least in part) Nash's superb ball-handling skills along with his ability to run the pick-and-roll with top-notch finishers like Howard and Gasol.

Though, to hear Brown tell it, even in the context of the Princeton, Nash may not be as limited as one might expect.

In any case, the Princeton will be but one of many options (albeit an important one) amongst a smorgasbord of offensive weapons that's likely to include hefty helpings of pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops and isolation plays.

As complicated as the Princeton offense can be and often is—with its variety of back screens, cuts and reads—it still boils down to a series of basic basketball principles, the emphasis of which should make the Lakers' star-studded lineup that much more dangerous.

 

Spacing

At the core of the Princeton offense is spacing. Typically, a Princeton set starts with two guards up top, two forwards on either wing and a center in the high post, as Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown.com illustrates here:

 

As it happens, the Lakers struggled with spacing last season. Mike Brown's decision to feature Andrew Bynum in the low post pushed Pau out toward the top of the key and closer to the wing. Gasol is certainly capable of playing high, thanks to his keen instincts for passing and feathery touch from the perimeter, though doing so ultimately neutralized some of his other strengths (i.e. mobility, passing and scoring inside) and forced him to find other ways to get his kicks.

Kobe's desire to do work down low, in part as a means of easing the strain on his aging body, only compounded the problem, as did the Lakers' lack of reliable outside shooters.

With Bynum out and the Princeton in, the Lakers can now get back to spreading the floor, especially with shooters like Nash and Jodie Meeks to make defenses pay for sagging. The coaching staff can always tweak the scheme to feature Howard on the low block, where he's most effective, rather than at the elbow, where he's limited by his deficiencies as a dribbler and passer.

And when Howard needs a breather, Mike Brown can slide Pau down to the "five" quite seamlessly, in which case the big Spaniard becomes the ideal "triple threat" to shoot, pass or get to the basket in space, much as Vlade Divac and Chris Webber were when the Sacramento Kings ran Princeton sets in the early 2000s. 

 

Ball Movement

Like any offense worth its salt, the Princeton also relies on crisp, precise ball movement, of the sort that could benefit the Lakers across the board. Naturally, having gifted passers like Kobe, Nash, Gasol and Metta share the rock so fervently will lead to a more exciting and more entertaining product for the fans.

More importantly, running an offense that encourages—nay, DEMANDS—ball movement can only help the entire team's morale. No longer will the Lakers rely on dumping the ball into the Black Mamba and having him go to work while four other guys stand around and watch—a habit that Phil Jackson was none too zen to criticize during his time in LA:

Instead, it'll be incumbent upon all five guys in Purple and Gold (Kobe included) to give the ball to one another in pursuit of the very best shot. The more everyone touches the ball, the more involved and invested everyone will feel and the more engaged they'll be on both ends of the court.

Mike Brown certainly has to like that idea. He's a "defensive guru" after all.

From a pure X's and O's standpoint, encouraging passing and keeping one player or another (i.e. Kobe) from dominating the ball will make the Lakers' offense that much tougher to defend and create more easy, open looks, particularly when the rock moves quickly from side to side. As is so often taught at basketball camps and clinics, passing, not dribbling, is the fastest way to get the ball from Point A to Point B.

Which, in turn, makes passing the most efficient way to throw an offense off-kilter. 

 

Player Movement

Not that player movement isn't important. If anything, constant motion may well be the most valuable contribution that the Princeton offense will make to the Lakers' success.

As with ball movement, player movement will help the Lakers avoid stagnation in the halfcourt. Ideally, Kobe's teammates won't spend most of their time standing around while watching him operate because they'll be too busy setting picks for one another, cutting to the basket themselves and generally making themselves available for easy baskets, just as Eddie Jordan's Washington Wizards once did (h/t Sebastian Pruiti):

 

Furthermore, putting players on the move will serve as yet another way of making opposing defenses work and forcing them to react. It'll be difficult enough for coaches to figure out ways to effectively slow down four Lakers who each demand double teams.

Get those guys to run around, set screens and roll to the rim, and those coaches will be left with splitting headaches while their players are left with the no-win decision over which All-Star to leave wide open.

This aspect of the Princeton offense is rendered all the more crucial by the Lakers' lack of outside shooting. The Lakers ranked 18th in the NBA in three-point attempts and 26th in accuracy, with the likes of MWP, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake launching the plurality of the team's tries.

And degrading the Lakers' offensive efficiency as a result.

Which basic tenet of the Princeton offense will benefit the Lakers most?

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The additions of Nash and Meeks should help in this regard, as should the health of Kobe's wrist. Even so, the Lakers are hardly equipped to launch three-point barrages.

Nor do they have the personnel to run an offense like the one Nash orchestrated with the Phoenix Suns. As B/R's Rob Mahoney points out, Phoenix's schemes were predicated on having marksmen like Grant Hill, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye available to hit shots from the perimeter on kick-outs from the free-wheeling Canadian.

That deficit of outside shooting won't hurt the Lakers' offensive output so long as they keep players moving toward the basket. The Princeton's abundance of screens and cuts should make it that much easier for LA's not-so-sharpshooters to find shots to which their skills are better suited.

And, in turn, get the Lakers back to playing beautiful basketball and, above all else, winning games.

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