Princeton Offense Isn't the Solution for Struggling Los Angeles Lakers
There's something wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yes, Kobe Bryant and company have flaws—not just surface blemishes, but inherent, systematical defects.
Are they fatal deformities?
If Mike Brown keeps insisting the Lakers run the Princeton offense, they will be.
The Princeton offense isn't the solution in Los Angeles—it's the problem.
Prior to the start of the season, Inside the NBA analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were chastised for their stand against the Lakers offense, ridiculed for admitting what has now become the obvious (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times):
[It] wasn't overly surprising to hear the TNT analysts give a thumbs down to the Princeton-style offense the Lakers have employed this preseason.
"I've always said I want my accountants from Princeton, not my offense," Barkley said in a conference call Tuesday with reporters.
Added O'Neal: "If they're going to switch offenses, they should go back to the triangle."
They had to be wrong, right? Los Angeles simply had too much firepower to fail, correct?
As it turns out, they were right, and the team wasn't immune to failure.
You see, the Lakers' disappointing start goes beyond age, beyond injury and well beyond the lack of chemistry the team is undoubtedly battling.
What's the root of the issue then, you ask?
Offensive execution, or lack thereof.
Los Angeles is averaging nearly 99 points per contest on the season, but it has come at the price of 39 total turnovers—31 of which have been committed by the team's starters.
So while chemistry is a problem, it's not the problem.
Chemistry, an unbreakable rapport, will come with time. The Lakers starters have a combined 33 All-Star appearances for a reason—they know how to play the game of basketball.
Which means they will adjust.
Just not to the Princeton offense.
Because it's asking each member of the Lakers' core to play to their weaknesses, not their strengths.
Surely I jest. Surely I'm out of mind. Surely I'm mistaken.
I could be kidding, losing my mind or just downright wrong, except that I'm not.
The only member of Los Angeles' starting five who is being utilized correctly within the Princeton offense is Metta World Peace, because he's only being asked to shoot corner threes. Even he is just shooting 38.5 percent from the field on the season.
Pau Gasol would be the only remaining argument of a player who is built to succeed in this offense. He's averaging 19.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting.
But that's not because of the Princeton offense. The power forward is used as more of a buffer in that structure, meaning Gasol's points have come outside the system, on his own accord or courtesy of Steve Nash. So even his offense is not the result of the Princeton set. If anything, his production has come in spite of it.
Speaking of Nash, though, this offensive blueprint is arguably affecting him the most. He is averaging just 4.5 points on 33.3 percent shooting and has dished out only four assists in each of the team's two contests thus far.
That got me thinking: When exactly is the last time Nash, who has dished out 10 or more assists a night seven out of the last eight years, dropped four or fewer dimes in consecutive games?
The year was 2008, in the postseason against the San Antonio Spurs.
Nearly five years have passed since Nash has struggled to create for his teammates the way he his now, and that came against a stalwart defense in San Antonio along with some of the worst performances of his career.
I don't care that Nash logged just 16 minutes when he injured his shin against Blazers. He was struggling to begin with. This system takes the ball out of his hands, which is the exact opposite of why he was brought to Tinseltown.
Nash was supposed to instill hope into an offense that had become a one-man show. He was supposed to be the first competent floor general Bryant had ever played alongside.
Instead, it has come to this, the 38-year-old resembling a shell of his former self.
Not because of his age, though, but because he doesn't have the ball in his hands to make plays.
You know who does have the ball in his hands, though?
The athlete formerly known has Superman is averaging a career high in assists, notching 3.5 per game. That's because he is the focal point of the offense, which is fine to an extent, but the Princeton offense also calls for big men to pass.
In Howard's case, the latter is not OK. He's still averaging upward of three turnovers a night and not putting the ball where it needs to be, instead dumping it off to the person nearest him.
Don't let 26 points per game on 63 percent shooting fool you. He's out of his comfort zone. He has developed into more than a pick-and-roll center, yet he's not even being asked to run pick-and-rolls anymore, so the system isn't playing to his primary strength.
Even if Howard does become indisputably comfortable, it doesn't matter.
Because the Lakers are still losing.
The same goes for Kobe, who has been asked to play off the ball more yet is still putting up 26 points every game.
Is it encouraging that players like Howard and Bryant have adapted to the Princeton offense?
To a point, yes, but again, their success, just like Gasol's, is more in spite of the system than anything else.
Nearly all of Los Angeles' starters are being asked to step out of their comfort zone in this offense. How well most adapt or how deft many of them are at scoring outside of the confines of the system is irrelevant.
What the Lakers need is the real Nash. But they're not going to have him inside this system. He's the one player who will never adapt, never be able to succeed in spite of the blueprint, because his entire well-being is predicated on him having the ball in his hands.
Which Lakers player has suffered the most as a result of the Princeton offense?
Who cares if Kobe, Howard and Gasol are scoring? They're not scoring in a synchronized format; they're not performing in harmony.
And they never will. Not until Brown allows them to play to their strengths and allows Nash to utilize their strengths.
After all, stat lines aren't everything. Los Angeles is now living proof of that.
But winning is something the Lakers won't do until they establish a well-balanced offensive attack that plays to the strengths of the many, not the few.
Winning won't become a reality until Los Angeles stops beating itself, stops battling against its own system just to claim victory.
The winning won't begin until the team puts the ball in Nash's hands, runs the floor and operates on sheer instinct, not a flawed, slow-paced system.
Winning isn't an option until the Lakers ditch the Princeton offense.
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