Five changes the Princeton offense could bring to the Lakers

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The moment the Lakers bring the ball up the floor, plenty of movement will ensue. They’ll constantly make cuts and passes to ensure balanced spacing. Regardless of position, each player will operate from various spots on the floor. How they run these sets and counters won’t be predetermined. It will mostly depend on how the defense reacts.

Ah, the glory days of the triangle offense. The Lakers didn’t always love running Phil Jackson’s system, and they proved eager in moving to a more traditional offense under Mike Brown once Jackson retired. But the triangle helped the Lakers win five championships. And with the Lakers lacking offensive efficiency last season, some players privately wished the triangle offense would return.

That moment may never come, but it appears it could emerge in a different form. Various reports indicate Brown will hire Eddie Jordan on his coaching staff after both Ettore Messina and Quin Snyder left this summer to take coaching stints with CSKA Moscow, a basketball powerhouse overseas. Yahoo! Sports reported that Kobe Bryant has talked with Brown about using Jordan’s version of the Princeton offense with the Lakers.


Below are five changes that could bring.

1. Better offensive structure So many elements contributed to the Lakers finishing the 2011-12 season 15th in total offense (97.3 points per game). Coach Brown lacked a full training camp to completely implement his principles. The Lakers underwent numerous roster changes for the worse stemming from the nixed Chris Paul trade and the shipping of Lamar Odom to Dallas. The need to set up Bryant along the elbows while also feeding Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol inside became contradictory philosophies instead of complementing principles. The Lakers also felt a sense of information overload from Brown’s thick playbook.

Many of these concerns would go out the window with the Princeton offense. There aren’t any set plays. The offense involves plenty of backdoor cuts and passing based on how the defense plays. The Lakers feature plenty of high-IQ players, including Steve Nash, Bryant, Gasol and Antawn Jamison, who would immediately grasp the principles.

2. Easier looks for Bryant. A typical possession for Bryant last season usually went like this: He’d dribble the ball in isolation, take his defender one on one and then shoot a fall-away jumper. Or Bryant would receive the ball late in the shot clock and hoist a desperation shot. Or Bryant would have the ball, glance at an either open or heavily defended Bynum and Gasol, and then heave an off-balance shot. No matter how you slice it, many of these possessions went to waste. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Bryant ran isolated sets on 27.9% of his possessions. Yet he only shot 37.3% from the field on such plays.

It appeared the Lakers were already planning to stray from that path after acquiring Nash, which relieves Bryant of primary ball-handling duties. The Princeton offense would help. All players would have ball-handling and passing duties. They would be instructed to make more off-ball cuts, which would better set up Bryant for open shots. And the constant spacing should throw off opposing defenses trying to key on specific players.

3. Less need for a traditional point guard. Just like in the triangle offense, the Princeton offense doesn’t need a point guard always bringing the ball up the floor. That was one of the many benefits the triangle offense brought since Derek Fisher lacked elite point guard skills but had enough basketball smarts to compensate.

In the Princeton case it’s different. It would be the foolish for the Lakers not to utilize Nash in traditional sets since he is among the league’s best ball-handlers and pick-and-roll players. That’s where the Lakers would have to be flexible on when to run the Princeton. The Lakers could try to use Nash’s traditional role early on in possessions in hopes that he finds a quick crack in a defensive scheme or runs a pick-and-roll with ease. Then, they could start the Princeton offense if the initial play doesn’t work. This flexibility would give the Lakers a lot of freedom. But it would be integral that the team remain disciplined enough to do that. In seasons past, the triangle offense stalled when L.A. wasn’t willing to incorporate both traditional sets and the triangle’s principles together.


4. Increased responsibility for Gasol. It appears Gasol’s upcoming season won’t be as frustrating as the last. With the Lakers locking up Nash and possibly even Dwight Howard, it’s likely Gasol won’t be the subject of many trade rumors. With this offense, it also appears that Gasol’s role would increase. This system taps into Gasol’s versatility in working in both the high and low posts, whether it’s shooting open jumpers or passing.

Gasol didn’t like working out of the high post last year because it pigeonholed him as a facilitator. But the Princeton would be different since such circumstances would be based on the reads rather than running actual sets. That would give Gasol more flexibility in also working in the low post.

5. Decreased responsibility for Bynum. It remains to be seen how this plays out. But it’s possible the Princeton offense would give Bynum a reduced role, assuming the Lakers don’t trade him for Howard. Bynum had a breakout year last season, posting 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. But a lot of that production reflects the Lakers’ offensive sets specifically gearing toward Bynum getting the ball.

The Laker center likely won’t have such a luxury anymore and could fall behind Gasol in the team’s pecking order because of it. As improved as Bynum has been in the low block, he’s far from matching Gasol’s versatile skill set on operating out of the high post. Because of that, Bynum’s points may come more off put-backs. He’d still receive looks inside because of ball movement. But it would come under different circumstances. Such opportunities would happen to ensure balanced spacing rather than under an actual emphasis on getting the ball.

It would be interesting to see how Bynum reacts to such a possibility. Early in his career, he often complained about playing third wheel behind Gasol. But in the past season or two, he’s embraced it and focused more on defense and rebounding. Now that he has an increased role and the subject of trade rumors, Bynum could handle this demotion the wrong way. And we all know how things turned out last season when Bynum showed a poor attitude.



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