The Lakers' move to the Princeton offense hasn't come without its share of hiccups.
In the preseason, the players have looked hesitant about where they should be moving to, which led to heaps of turnovers and a general sense that the implementation is a work in progress. If the Princeton is supposed to be a read and react offense, the Lakers have definitely been thinking too much and not reading or reacting enough.
Even with these stretches of sloppiness, the Lakers have shown there are solid foundational sets they can go to for offensive success. The key, of course, is executing them.
What you'll notice in all of the clips below are the positioning of the players on the floor. Every set will start with both big men around the elbows, the wings standing wide outside the three-point line and the point guard bringing up the ball on the left side of the floor.
This isn't necessarily a classic Princeton set up, because the second big is around the elbow rather than on the opposite wing, but the offense is flexible enough to accommodate this alignment.
We begin, then, with a set that will be a foundational action for the Lakers this season. It is a high-post entry to the big man that leads to some nice ball side screens.
As mentioned, Steve Nash brings the ball up the left side of the floor with Kobe Bryant also on that side, standing on the wing outside the three-point line. Dwight Howard is the big man on that side of the floor and makes himself available for the catch.
Nash makes the entry to Howard. He then sets a screen for Kobe, who cuts hard towards Howard to initiate a hand-off sequence. Howard hands the ball off to Kobe, who takes one hard dribble to threaten the paint. Once Kobe draws the defense, he throws the ball up in the air, and Howard crashes the paint after the handoff to catch the ball and throw down a dunk.
The beauty of this play is the simplicity mixed with the compromising position the defense is in. With Kobe, Nash and Howard all on the same side of the floor, the defense can't realistically help anyone without being exposed. When Kobe finally receives the ball, he's in prime position to shoot a jumper or drive the lane, and must be picked up. That's why Dwight is wide open on the roll; it is his man that gets sucked into the paint after Kobe gets the ball.
The pick-and-roll isn't necessarily thought of as a Princeton set, but the Lakers will use the action a fair amount to initiate their offense and get the defense reacting in order to open up various options in the offense.
Again, notice the position of the players. Nash is bringing the ball up the left side where Kobe waits. On the opposite side of the floor, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace wait for the set to start. Howard is the trail man and has some choices. He can either run to the strong side post, go to the elbow (like he did in the previous clip) or run a pick-and-roll with Nash. He chooses the latter.
After Howard sets the screen, you start to see the different ways the Lakers can use this action to their favor. In this instance, Nash recognizes that the hedge man has taken away his driving lane and that the weak side big (Pau's man) has left his man to take away Howard's roll to the paint. Nash then delivers a nifty bounce pass to Gasol.
Once Gasol has the ball he has a myriad of options. He can shoot the ball himself. He can swing the ball to World Peace in the corner. He could even hold the ball for a beat, see how the defense reacts and look to skip the ball back to Kobe. Instead, Gasol sees that Kobe's man hasn't rotated as he should have, leaving Howard with a clean lane to the rim. Gasol throws the lob, and Dwight is all alone at the rim to finish easily.
The great thing about using a pick-and-roll to start an offensive set is that it doesn't have to be a quick hitting action like we saw above. It can also be used simply to get the defense rotating in a way that then exposes other options later in a set.
In this initiation you see the same alignment on the floor, except Kobe and World Peace have switched sides of the floor. After trying a quick hitting pick-and-roll to start the set that goes nowhere, Nash calls Howard out to the perimeter again to run the action another time.
This time the action produces a somewhat desirable result. Nash attacks the hedge man off the dribble while Howard still dives to the paint. As with the earlier set, Pau acts as a release valve around the elbow area, and Nash is able to hit him with a pass after the defense has collapsed the paint.
If Pau wouldn't have fumbled the ball, he again would have had multiple options. His own shot would have probably been available, and if his man rushed at him to close out, he also could have put the ball on the floor to try and attack the rim. Instead, by the time Pau has control of the ball, the only real option is to swing the ball to Kobe who is open on the wing.
Once Kobe has the ball he sees that Howard, in his natural progression of the set, has turned his original dive to the rim into a post-up chance. Howard slides his way across the paint and to the low block where Kobe hits him with a pass. Dwight then attacks his man and earns a foul that that will send him to the free throw line.
What all three of these sets show is that there are simple ways the Lakers can get into the their offense that will benefit them a great deal. Keys to success will be spacing, recognizing what the defense is doing to try and limit an action and then showing the patience and smarts to take advantage.
There is nothing earth shattering in what the Lakers do in these sets. But, when run properly, they will create good shots simply because the talent on the floor is so high. The basketball IQ of the players will allow them to advance the play in way that the defense will have trouble stopping.
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