Steve Nash has the big responsibility of getting the Lakers offense in motion this season
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers off-season acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have been covered ad nauseam by to this point of the preseason, and for good reason. That type of coverage usually comes when the best franchise in professional sports adds two All-Star caliber players.
With new players also comes new changes on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, and its no coincidence that Nash and Howard respectively excel in these areas. Nash has led the NBA in assists five times and Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The Lakers are installing elements of the Princeton offense this season, a change from the inconsistent offensive game plan utilized by head coach Mike Brown that stalled at times last season (L.A. had a stretch in January '12 of 13 consecutive games scoring less than 100 points).
On the defensive end, the Lakers have an anchor in the paint that will allow them more options for how they can defend opposing teams at multiple positions, Brown's bread and butter as a coach in the NBA.
In the upcoming slides, we will examine the most important offensive and defensive strategies for the Lakers will be implementing for 2012-13 in their quest for a championship, beginning with the offense and closing with the defense.
One key aspect that makes the Princeton offense so effective is spacing. The Princeton offense typically begins with four players (two guards and two forwards) around the three-point line, with the center or main post player beginning in the high post around the free throw line or on the low block.
With the guards and forwards all hovering around the outside and flanked on the four points of the floor, there is a ton of space for Steve Nash to either initiate a pick-and-roll play with Dwight Howard, pass and cut or drive and kick to one of the wings.
Last season the Lakers offense ended with a lot of standing around and waiting for Kobe to create a shot for himself or others, usually ending with a difficult jump shot for Kobe, a forced post attempt for a double-teamed Andrew Bynum or a long jump shot for Gasol, which is far from his strong suit.
The spacing offered by the Princeton makes it difficult for opposing defenses to effectively double-team either Howard in the post area or Kobe Bryant on the wing. When a team does attempt to double, the basketball can be quickly moved to either Nash or Metta World Peace on the outside for a wide open jump shot or cutting to the basket, which we will get into on the next slide.
Another great aspect of the Princeton offense is that it primarily relies on quick passes and player movement, including back cuts and swing passes (as the video above illustrates). The Princeton is also similar to the triangle offense the Lakers utilized under future Hall Of Fame head coach Phil Jackson.
In the Princeton, once a pass is made from the point guard (Nash in this instance) to a wing or to the high post, Nash can either move to set a back pick for the wing player on the opposite side of the court, set a screen for the wing with the basketball or set a pick for the post player.
Another option would be for the wing in the corner (MWP or Gasol) to quickly make a back cut as soon as Nash passes to the post player, forcing the defense to scramble to cover the cutter, creating a wide open look for Kobe Bryant, MWP or Gasol—whichever wing isn't the cutter at the time.
Assuming the defense shifts to react to the cutter, that would leave Dwight Howard wide open to cut to the front of the rim for an easy lob pass or post up opportunity. Constant ball and player movement not only can create open looks, but also mismatches in multiple areas of the court for the Lakers.
During his MVP days with the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash mastered the pick-and-roll, first with athletic forward Amar'e Stoudemire and later with Marcin Gortat. Now with the Lakers, Nash not only has the best finishing big man in the NBA with Dwight Howard but also has crafty vet Pau Gasol to work the pick-and-roll with.
The pick-and-roll is typically initiated with the point guard waiting for the post player to come to set a screen on the guard's defender around the top of the key. The post player then quickly dives into the lane, where the guard can either feed them a bounce or lob pass for an easy dunk or lay up, as demonstrated in the video above.
What will make the pick-and-roll even more effective effective for the Lakers is Howard's athleticism. Howard is quicker and more athletic than most opposing centers, allowing him to beat them to the basket or jump to finish over them.
Add Gasol to the mix, who is an excellent passer and can create for teammates once he rolls into the lane, and the Lakers are dangerous with either option. The P&R can also be ran with Kobe Bryant, with Kobe able to pop out for a jump shot instead of rolling to the basket.
The Lakers also have options on the bench that the P&R can be ran effectively with in versatile forward Antawn Jamison and athletic big man Jordan Hill. The possibilities for the Lakers offensive options are endless.
Once he is fully healthy, Dwight Howard's presence will allow the Lakers to play defense more aggressively on the perimeter. Much has been made about the defensive deficiencies of Steve Nash, but with a shot blocker of Howard's caliber in the middle Nash and co. can afford to gamble more defensively.
The Lakers have a few players capable of racking up steals in bunches, with Kobe Bryant (1.5) and Metta World Peace (1.9) both averaging over a steal a game for their careers. If Nash can pressure the opposing point guard up top even a little, Kobe and MWP can jump the passing lanes with confidence knowing that Howard is behind them to help if they aren't successful at making the steal.
One drawback of this strategy is that it puts Howard at-risk for foul trouble, but Howard has done a decent job over the years of staying on the court, only fouling out of 10 games over the last three seasons.
One area where the Lakers have been killed defensively over the last couple years is rotating and help defense. Evidence of this is that opponents shot .348 from three-point range on the Lakers last season, 14th in the NBA.
Communication is a huge key to proper help defense. Since Dwight Howard is one of the more intelligent defenders in the league (and an owner or three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards) the Lakers communication should improve from the moment he steps on the court. Howard can direct his teammates where to rotate as well has clog the lane if an assignment happens to be missed.
L.A. also has the luxury of players that can defend multiple positions if needed. Metta World Peace can guard three to four positions on the court. Kobe Bryant is capable of defending anywhere on the wing in most situations. On the bench, 6'9" Devin Ebanks and 6'10" Jordan Hill can both defend two to three positions, giving the Lakers a lot of defensive versatility.
The Lakers defensive rotations should also improve this season with an in-shape Metta World Peace, who at 32-years old is still capable of being one of the best wing defenders in he league. MWP has looked nimble so far in preseason and if that can carry over into the regular season, the Lakers perimeter defense will get an immediately boost.
Everyone loves the monster blocked shot, like this swat Kobe Bryant delivered to Utah Jazz G/F Gordon Hayward. Dwight Howard is a great shot blocker in his own right, but interior defense in the NBA is more than just a big blocked shot here and there. Interior defense also includes defensive rebounding, positioning and altering shots, all areas where Howard excels.
Not only does Howard excel with defensive rebounding (he led the NBA with a 33.1% defensive rebounding percentage), Pau Gasol is also a solid defensive rebounder and finished 2011-12 with a 21.8% defensive rebounding percentage. Reserve forward Jordan Hill is even better on the glass than Gasol, registering a 26.3 rebounding percentage last season, per NBA-Reference.com. Rookie center Robert Sacre has even shown some solid defense in the paint so far in the preseason.
Rebounding is a huge asset to the Lakers, allowing them to limit opponent's shot attempts and letting the Lakers control the pace of the game. Also, the Lakers still having two starting post players that are 6'11" (Howard) and 7" (Gasol) gives the Lakers a big advantage for paint dominance.
The Lakers have the players and the game plan in place to be one of the best, if not the best team in the NBA. If they implement these key offensive and defensive strategies in 2012-13, the Lakers will fulfill the lofty expectations many have set for the them this season.