5 Reasons L.A. Lakers Cannot Live and Die by Princeton Offense
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Even before the refs threw up the ball at the beginning of the first game of the new season, the Los Angeles Lakers knew they would not be using the Princeton as their exclusive offensive scheme. They also had no reason to believe they would be 1-4 and off to their worst start in half a century.
Yet here they are. The Lakers look listless and lost and are playing what resembles more of a Bermuda Triangle than an offshoot of the famous Triangle Offense that Tex Winter brought to L.A. years ago and Phil Jackson expertly implemented.
From the time coach Mike Brown brought in Eddie Jordan to teach the troops how to play it, the Princeton was going to be a part of an offensive scheme that would rely more on the instincts of its veteran players, especially point guard Steve Nash, who would become its general.
But whether Nash was in or out of the lineup, the Princeton has met with very limited success thus far. The Lakers are averaging just 97 points through their first five games while giving up 98 to the opposition. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement for a new system that was supposed to get the team scoring average well over 100 points per night.
Team president Jim Buss may be saying there's nothing to worry about at this stage of the season but clearly he is.
"This team was built to win now," Buss said via ESPNLA.com.
"I know if we're 1-15, I don't think that would be very good. I'm sure that would be a panic button. But at this time, I'm fine with what's going on. It's a learning process for the players. As long as everybody is on the same page, I think we're fine."
Is it time to shuck the Princeton and take a long, hard look at player and coach personnel? There certainly are enough reasons to have concern.
Where Are the Shooters?
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For an offense that relies on ball movement to succeed, you need to have players who can put the ball in the hole, especially from the outside. To date, they've been missing in action..
Outside of Kobe Bryant, who has been making shots from everywhere despite a minor foot injury (27 points on 56 per cent from the field, including 43 percent from beyond the arc), the Lakers are not converting outside the paint. Plain and simple.
Pau Gasol is making just under 42 percent of his shots, with at least half the attempts being those "cash money" (favorite expression of Lakers play-by-play announcer Bill McDonald) ones from 10-15 feet out.
The other so-called shooters are mostly shooting blanks: Steve Blake (35 percent), Steve Nash (33 percent), Devin Ebanks (23 percent), Jodie Meeks (29 percent) and Antawn Jamison (43 percent, but just 17 percent from three-point range).
Nash and Howard Are Perfect for Pick and Roll
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It was painfully obvious before Steve Nash went down with a foot injury that could keep him out of the lineup for a month that his skill set was really not a great fit for the Princeton.
The Lakers knew that when they traded for him in July, deciding then to make adjustments for the king of the pick-and-roll offense.
Eddie Jordan, brought to L.A. for the specific task of implementing the Princeton (so named for former Princeton head coach Pete Carril), told the L.A. Times' Mike Bresnahan that "each player will find their niche and their strength in this offense."
As their floor general, Nash is better suited for an up-tempo game that features pick and rolls. He'll make the adjustments to run the Princeton once he returns to the lineup, but it will be up to him when to use it.
Do Lakers Have the Right Personnel for the Princeton?
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This is not an indictment of the Princeton. But in order for it to be effective, players need to consistently move without the ball.
And then they have to have the confidence and ability to put it in the basket.
The Lakers basketball IQ is as good as any in the league, and that's a good first step to having a successful version of this offense. All five starters—Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol and MWP—are adapting fairly well.
It's the next tier of players that appears mostly lost on what to do and where to be when they're out on the floor. Everyone assumed that the Lakers' anemic bench of last year would be slightly improved this season, but so far, there is little evidence to support that.
There is a collection of talent; make no mistake of that. Jordan Hill has been the most effective off the bench, providing a lot of energy and rebounding on both ends of the court. But as a group trying to play within a new system, the results have been dour.
The Lakers bench is averaging just 17 points per game and shooting only 38 percent (29 percent from beyond the arc). They've been outscored by their opponent in all five games, with the 41-11 margin against the Jazz on Wednesday being their worst.
Do They Have the Right Coach to Make It All Work?
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Mike Brown has an excellent reputation for building strong defensive-minded teams. He learned under one of the best in Greg Popovich at San Antonio.
Brown's Cleveland Cavaliers went to the NBA Finals in 2007 primarily on the strength of their defense. Their offense consisted primarily of giving the ball to LeBron James on one side and clearing out the other four guys so that he could go one on one.
The LeBron Offense worked in Cleveland to a point. Still, as Brian Windhorst of ESPNLA.com pointed out on Thursday, James and teammate Larry Hughes were openly critical of Brown's style when the team went through a rough patch of games.
Brown seems to feel that defense is where good teams need to excel in order to go far in the playoffs and he is right. And, to his credit, he's brought in other people to implement a new offensive scheme that can more effectively utilize the talent he has.
Bryant is off to a great start playing in the Princeton. Last week, he told reporters to be patient and for the critics to "just shut up and let us work.." That was after the team had lost its first two games.
Wednesday night, as the Lakers went down to their fourth defeat, the cameras caught Bryant glaring at his coach and obviously in more of a sour mood.
The question remains: Is Mike Brown the right coach to lead the Lakers in a town that demands perfection and has no real patience for mediocrity?
Getting Everyone on the Same Page Could Take an Entire Season
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Mike Brown hired Eddie Jordan to run the Princeton Offense, but it was Kobe Bryant who campaigned for it.
Bryant has taken to the system like it's the fountain of youth. Dwight Howard is also flourishing, but the rest of the team is floundering.
Bryant's U.S. Olympic team had a month to learn how to play together in London, and look what happened: They won the gold medal.
So why should it be so difficult for the players on the Lakers to get accustomed to the Princeton Offense?
On paper, the Lakers of 2012-13 are legitimate contenders to win an NBA title. But in reality, they may not have all the pieces to make it happen.
In the final analysis, it may not be the Princeton Offense at fault for the Lakers' slow start. This team has some serious flaws, including a terrible perimeter game, a slow transitional defense and porous point guard play that other teams are quick to exploit.
It also has a dedicated, hard-working head coach who might be losing the collective ear of his players.
L.A. will be fine with its version of the Princeton, but this is not the tonic that will put the Lakers over the top. For that, the answer can only come from the performances of its players day in and day out.
For the Lakers to succeed, everyone will need to contribute with hustle and passion. They must buy into the philosophy of the coaching staff.
The season is young, but for a number of players and coaches, the time for execution and results is now.