The Lakers' use of the Princeton offense has come under fire to start the 2012-13 season. Too many times the team has looked disjointed as sets have broken down leading to stalled possessions and too many wasted trips down the floor.
This has led to much consternation amongst fans and analysts alike, with nearly everyone wondering whether or not the Lakers should continue to utilize the Princeton as their base offensive scheme.
However, while there are team-wide issues that are certainly noticeable, what's also clear is that certain players are doing quite well in this offense. Namely, one Kobe Bryant. Early in the season, Kobe has utilized the offense very well in order to get to spots on the floor where he could be effective and score efficiently.
In breaking down how he's doing it, it's easy to see that he's finding ways to make the offense work for him while also going back to some of his old tricks that have made him such a fantastic scorer throughout his career.
One of the keys of the Princeton offense is movement generated off screen actions to get primary scorers in positions where they're most dangerous. And, for Kobe, he's been utilizing one specific set in particular that's allowing to get the ball on the move at the free throw line where he can be put in a position to do what he does best:
In this set Kobe starts on the left wing as Steve Nash brings the ball up the floor. Nash enters the ball into Dwight Howard at the elbow and then proceeds to the wing to set a screen for Kobe. At this point, Kobe has a couple of options but decides he's going to use Nash's screen to cut towards Howard where he then receives a hand-off. After getting the ball, Kobe recognizes Howard's man doesn't help and takes a power dribble into the paint where he explodes to the rim for a lay in.
This action is one that is used in the Princeton offense time after time and really plays to Kobe's strengths. First of all, he's fantastic at reading defenses and understands when he should take screens or turn them down based off what his man is doing. Next, he's put in a position where he's moving towards the ball and to a spot on the floor where he can either shoot an easy jumper or extend the play and drive to the rim in order to get a good shot.
But, utilizing screens isn't the only way in which Kobe will move off the ball in order to get a good shot. The Princeton is also an offense where backdoor cuts rule and Kobe will also use his defender's momentum against him to shake free on cuts to the rim:
Forget the circus finish for a second and instead focus on the little things in this play that lead up to the shot. After bringing the ball up the left side of the floor, Metta World Peace looks for a quick hitting post up from Dwight Howard. However, when Howard is fronted, World Peace looks for the next option which is a ball reversal to Kobe who is standing near the top of the key.
In one motion, Kobe feints towards the ball as if he's going to try and get a pass but then quickly cuts back door behind his man who is overplaying the passing lane. With Howard already sealing his man who was fronting, Kobe has a wide open lane to cut down. World Peace delivers an excellent pass and Kobe makes the catch, elevates, and finishes the difficult shot. Again, don't focus on the finish and instead look at Kobe's cut and how the scoring opportunity is set up by the formation of the offense and the action of the cut dictated by the overplay.
Of course, what makes Kobe a fantastic scorer is integrating what he's done his entire career and incorporating that into the offense on the whole. That means taking some shots that aren't necessarily based off the design of the offense (like the two clips above) but rather bailing out his team when the offense is a bit off kilter:
In this clip you see some semblance of the Princeton offense but things just aren't going that smoothly. Already deep into the possession, we see that Pau Gasol and Darius Morris are passing the ball back and forth looking for a post up option on the strong side. When that doesn't materialize, you can see Kobe motioning for the ball to be reversed to his side of the floor so he can post up.
When the ball finally is reversed, Kobe is still calling for the ball but has been pushed out from the mid post and ends up near the three point line. Kobe makes the catch, understands that the shot clock is running down and shoots the three pointer without hesitating. The shot goes in and the team gets three points when it likely shouldn't have gotten anything.
Even though that possession was disjointed, not everything was bad on that set and we can still see how the Princeton offense aided Kobe. While it wasn't pretty, the Lakers show good floor balance in the set with Pau, Jordan Hill, and Morris all on the strong side. So, when the ball is rotated to Devin Ebanks, he and Kobe can play a bit of a two man game. Furthermore, due to pretty good offensive spacing that's generated by the Princeton offense, Kobe still has room to operate and never feels pressure from a second defender even though it would have been an optimal time to double team him with the shot clock running down.
If you watch the Lakers play you'll see countless other examples of Kobe utilizing the offense to get good shots. Most of the time he'll use the structure of the offense but there are still times where he freelances in order to get in position to score the ball. In the end, though, this is the flexibility of the offense and that is really the main reason Kobe can thrive.