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Pros and Cons of Los Angeles Lakers' Princeton Offense

Josh MartinFeatured Columnist IVDecember 26, 2016

Pros and Cons of Los Angeles Lakers' Princeton Offense

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    The Los Angeles Lakers haven't escaped the cloud of panic that engulfed the City of Angels after their 0-3 start, though a convincing win over the lowly Detroit Pistons granted them something of a reprieve.

    The same can't be said for L.A.'s version of the Princeton offense. Rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly), the Ivy League scheme (and Mike Brown's decision to implement a version of it) has been the subject of considerable scrutiny among those looking to point fingers just four games into the 2012-13 NBA season.

    That's not to say that the Princeton is or isn't a perfect fit for the Lakers' star-studded roster. Like any overdissected sports-related topic of conversation, Pete Carril's brainchild brings with it a lengthy list of pros and cons.

    Particularly when the glitziest, most glamorous franchise in basketball gives it a go. With all of this in mind, let's have a look at 10 potential benefits and shortcomings—five of each—of the Princeton offense in Lakerland.

Pro: Easy on the Legs

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    When the Princeton offense is clicking, it opens up easy shots for the Lakers' stars and does so without exacting as terrible a toll on their respective bodies.

    As Coach Nick of BBall Breakdown shows in the video above, the Princeton's combination of ball movement, player movement and spacing makes L.A.'s attack that much tougher to defend. The schematic harmony of L.A.'s Fearsome Foursome—Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash—allows them to draw defensive attention away from each other and their less threatening teammates.

    And it does all of this without forcing the Lakers' stars to exert undue pressure on their bodies. Kobe and Nash are dealing with foot and leg injuries, respectively; Dwight's back is still on the mend; and Gasol, at 32, is at the point in his career where injuries are more the norm than the exception.

    Luckily for them, they can take their time in the half court with the Princeton offense rather than trying to push the pace.

    And their luck.

Con: Cramping Steve Nash's Style

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    Then again, Nash butters his bread by playing uptempo basketball; and Howard, though not 100 percent healthy just yet, is a fantastic finisher in transition.

    Dwight, though, can always count on getting touches—particularly in the Princeton, which is typically initiated in the post.

    The same can't be said for Nash. He's used to having the ball in his hands while orchestrating the offense. But the Princeton calls for the entire team to share dribbling and passing duties, which often leaves Nash floating on the perimeter.

    That's not necessarily the worst of outcomes, considering Nash's superb shooting ability. Nonetheless, Nash has long been a wizard with the ball in his hands; he would presumably maximize the Lakers' loaded lineup.

    When he returns from a slight fracture in his fibula, that is.

    It's no wonder, then, that Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith (see video above) don't care for what the Princeton offense has supposedly done to Nash's game. If he returns to average 4.5 points and 4.0 assists, as he did through his first game-and-a-half as a Laker, then we'll know better as to whether or not the TNT crew was right.

Pro: Plenty of Room for Pick-and-Roll

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    The Princeton offense doesn't have to be Steve Nash's undoing.

    At least, if Mike Brown's plan pans out. As he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times earlier this season:

    Every time down the floor — and if they want to, they can call Steve Nash and ask him — Steve Nash has the right to play pick-and-roll if he wants to. He has said it himself that he doesn't feel like he's as burdened because he doesn't have to make every play for everybody all the time with what we're trying to do. He can give it up and still have a chance to get it back. He's said that he feels as fresh as he's ever felt in his career because he doesn't feel the pressure of making every single play.

    Indeed, Mike Brown isn't asking (much less demanding) that Nash abandon the pick-and-roll. Instead, the idea is to let Nash, who's fashioned a Hall of Fame career out of the pick-and-roll, read the defense each time down and initiate the two-man game when he sees fit.

    And it's not as though he doesn't have anyone with whom to run it. Howard ranks among the NBA's most proficient pick-and-roll finishers, and Gasol has the skills to either go hard to the hole or pop out for a mid-range jumper off screens.

Con: When To Pick and When To Princeton?

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    The issue, it seems, is that Nash doesn't yet know when to go for the two-man game and when to drop the ball into the high post, Princeton-style. As he told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles:

    I'm very reluctant to worry about myself. I want to learn, I want to build this team up and then if I need to be more proactive and a bigger part of things, that'll come. But right now, I want to try to get the offense going, get the guys going, get everyone's confidence up and we'll find a happy medium sometime down the road. I'm not worried about myself.

    In a way, Nash's people-pleasing instincts are being turned against him. He wants to learn the system and make it work, though doing so seems to come at the expense of his pick-and-roll prowess.

    Or, rather, seemed to during his game-and-a-half of regular-season action before bumping legs with Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard.

    Still, the Lakers are essentially asking an old dog to teach himself some relatively new tricks while he adjusts to an unfamiliar situation. He's playing in a new city—with new teammates, new coaches and new surroundings—while spending more time away from his beloved children than he'd ever want.

    Adding a new scheme to the mix might just be too much for Nash to handle, at least for the time being.

Pro: Kobe and Pau Love To Read (and React)

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    But while Nash and Howard may not be so familiar with a read-and-react offense like the Princeton, Kobe and Pau surely are.

    All five of Bryant's championship rings were won with teams that ran the famed Triangle offense under Phil Jackson. Gasol was on hand for the last two of those and proved a perfect fit for the Zen Master's preferred style of play from the moment he became an ex-Memphis Grizzlies star in 2008.

    It's no wonder, then, that Kobe's numbers have been so strong to this point. Pau's remain somewhat subpar by his standards, though that would seem to have less to do with his comfort in the Princeton and more with his being the third banana behind Bryant and Howard.

    In any case, Kobe and Pau may be old, but they remain the foundation of whatever success the Lakers hope to have on the offensive end this season. Putting them in a context similar to that in which they've previously had so much success, then, should only bolster L.A.'s odds of title contention by the time the playoffs roll around.

Pro: They Can "Role" with It

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    Even basketball savants like Kobe and Pau can't claim to be among those Lakers most familiar with the Princeton offense. Rather, that distinction is shared by three key members of L.A.'s supporting cast: Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison.

    The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest learned the Princeton during his days with the Sacramento Kings, for whom Pete Carril has served as an assistant on multiple occasions. As for Blake and Jamison, they both ran the scheme under current Lakers assistant Eddie Jordan, when all three (players and coach) worked for the Washington Wizards.

    Given L.A.'s issues with bench scoring—last in the NBA in 2011-12, next-to-last through four games so far, per Hoops Stats—it makes some sense that the team would try to bolster its reserves through strategic familiarity.

Con: Hi, My Name Is...

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    Of course, it doesn't much matter who's run which offense where.

    What does matter (for now, anyway) is that they haven't run it together. This year's Lakers roster features six brand-new faces and a seventh (Jordan Hill) who wasn't in training camp with the team prior to the 2011-12 season.

    That'd be a ton of turnover for one summer, even if said turnover didn't involve two superstars. Throw Nash and Howard into the mix, and these guys need much more than just name tags to figure out how to run a free-flowing offense that requires synchronicity among the entire roster.

    So far, the lack of fellowship among the Lakers roster has been evident, Princeton and otherwise. According to Team Rankings, the Purple and Gold currently rank in the bottom four of just about every turnover-related statistical category.

    Which is to be expected, especially in an offense that demands those operating it be comfortable with one another.

    Not that such struggles should at all satiate the thirst of those yearning for quality basketball, the Lakers themselves included.

Pro: Too Early To Call

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    The fact that these problems have come to the fore so early, though, may well prove to be a blessing in disguise for these Lakers. Frankly, it was always going to take some time for these Lakers to gel, at least to the extent that they could execute a read-and-react offense with any consistency or proficiency.

    Even more so with Nash out with an injury and Howard not yet his usual, running-and-jumping self.

    Funny thing, though: There are still 78 games and more than five months to go until the playoffs roll around, when the Lakers will actually need to be at the top of their game.

    In the meantime, there will be growing pains, too-many-turnover games and days when the offense somehow overshadows the defense (which, by the way, is the real problem in L.A.). So long as those issues are resolved by the time the Larry O'Brien Trophy is in sight, the Lakers should be humming their way to easy baskets for all.

Con: It Has a Name

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    As it happens, the biggest problem with the Princeton offense as it concerns the Lakers is that is goes by a recognizable name.

    Chances are, if the Lakers weren't attempting to run the Ivy League scheme, the blame for their 0-3 start wouldn't have fallen so hard on the offense. After all, L.A.'s offense is still among the most efficient in the NBA, at least as far as scoring points (i.e. the objective of basketball) is concerned.

    If not for the word "Princeton," L.A.'s detractors would likely be pointing more generally to the team's turnover woes, its middling defensive rebounding numbers, its lackluster bench and its general inability to stop the opposition from putting the ball in the basket.

    But because it has a name and because it has roots in the Ivory Tower of the Ivy League, the Princeton offense has become a scapegoat for the Lakers' most pressing issues.

Con: Who Wants To Be Like Mike?

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    Speaking of scapegoats, Mike Brown knows a thing or two about being piled on by those looking to assign blame. Brown was Coach of the Year with the Cleveland Cavaliers but was given the boot prior to LeBron James bolting town in 2010.

    Because, you know, Brown was apparently at fault for the Cavs' inability to win big games or field a competent roster around LeBron.

    Brown arrived in L.A. last year to little fanfare. Any excitement about his arrival was drowned out by skepticism surrounding the Lakers' apparent decision to overlook other coaching candidates of better fit (i.e. Brian Shaw and Rick Adelman).

    And when the Lakers got off to a slow start in 2011-12 and ultimately fell flat in the playoffs, it was Brown who was once again targeted for being Not Phil Jackson or Not [Insert Name of More Popular Choice Here]. Fans, pundits and, apparently, players questioned Brown's tactics and rotations.

    All of which was due to come under greater scrutiny once Nash and Howard put on the Purple and Gold.

    As such, most anything that Brown does (or tries to do) now is likely to be analyzed through a lens with a preexisting anti-Mike bias, especially if it doesn't succeed right off the bat. It was Brown's idea to try the Princeton offense with this team, and since some presume Brown to have whatever the opposite of the Midas touch is, then it stands to reason that his offense is the root of the problem. 

    Would Brown be second-guessed so roundly if he already had a championship ring in his collection? Kobe would seem to think not, as he told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times:

    “Now you have Mike Brown telling everybody to be patient,” Bryant said. “Back then, it was Phil Jackson telling everybody to shut up.

    “The critics are more likely to take runs at him [Brown] than they would at Phil Jackson.”

    Now Bryant can be the one to ask for silence.

    “Yeah because I’ve won, so I can,” Bryant said. “Mike, it would be a little tougher for him to say that. So I’ll say it for him: Everybody shut up. Let us work.”

    And work they shall, whether anyone notices or not.

     

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