Princeton Offense Bringing Offensive Excitement Back to Lakers

Ender’s Game. Heard of it? If not, read it. For many, the tome lies in the obscurity of their middle school classrooms. For others, the title marks one of the greatest science fiction books of all time; a brilliant jewel that shines in the muck that characterizes much of science fiction. The plot itself does not deviate much from the general extra-terrestrial thriller: Aliens invade Earth, the technology of those aliens supremely outmatches the collective capacities of the human race, and somehow, a hero rises out of the struggle and saves the planet.

Who is this hero? His name is Ender, and here’s the kicker: He’s eleven. One would think that the fate of the world would rest on shoulders much broader than that of a small child, yet Ender has unique capabilities. Trained as a strategist for five grueling years, Ender was a genuine “outside of the box” thinker, always keeping the “buggers”, as they called them, on their toes (or whatever appendages they used for feet). Ender had a knack for making bold yet ingenuous decisions in the heat of battle, and was very attuned to what the particular situation demanded.

Fluid. Reactive. Instantaneous.

In warfare, it is not often that plans run seamlessly. When confronted with an intelligent enemy, there will always be counters to even the best of plans. In those moments where critical thinking matters most, intelligent actors who can make split-second decisions are invaluable to be had.

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For the Lakers, running the Triple Post Offense (or the Triangle as it’s commonly known) has given many of the old stays plenty of experience in reading and reacting to whatever defense their opponent proffered. For Lakers holdovers from the Phil Jackson era, running structured sets after having complete freedom under the Triangle was a regression indeed, comparable to playing checkers after a lifetime of chess lessons.

With the addition of Coach Eddie Jordan, it looks as if the Lakers can play chess again. Much like its Triangle predecessor, the Princeton offense allows Lakers players to adjust and respond to change in game-play, movement and passing initiated by the defensive stance itself.

Even in his most recent comments, Phil Jackson said: “From what I understand, they’ve gone to some form of the Princeton offense, which is a system similar to the Triangle (offense). That can get them into an automatic response so they don’t have to call plays or get, you know, realigned. They can just kind of get their flow game back again.”

Fluid. Reactive. Instantaneous.

The Not-So-Gold Standard: Struggling on O

In terms of offensive efficiency this past season, the Lakers could hardly be considered an elite team. They posted an ORtg of 106.0, ranking tenth of the NBA’s 32  teams. When you consider that only the NBA’s 16 best teams make the playoffs, it’s no surprise that the Lakers received a swift second round spanking. Sounds about right.

After the 2008 debacle in Boston, a defensive oriented mindset permeated the league. The 2008 Los Angeles Lakers were, at that time, the gold standard in offensive efficiency, hitting an incredible 113.0 ORtg. To put that in perspective, the ’96 Chicago Bulls, considered by many to be the greatest team of all time, posted an offensive efficiency of 115.2. The highest ORtg ever, posted by the ’87 Lakers, came in at 115.6. The high octane offense from the Spurs last year? Only 110.9. One could see why the downfall of the 2008 Lakers would initiate a shift towards a defensive mindset throughout the league.

And it worked. The Lakers organization realized that developing an offensive superpower was only valuable if you could simultaneously stop the other team from scoring points. The following season, they increased their defensive efficiency on their way to  the championship. And the year after that, the 2009-2010 season, they did it again. Defense was winning them championships, but all the while their offensive efficiency slipped.

From the 2008 season on, the Lakers offensive efficiency slipped every season, with the exception of the 2011 season. They dropped from that staggering 113.0 ORtg in 2008 to a 112.8 ORtg in 2009, to 108.8 in 2010, and back up again to 111.0 in 2011. When Mike Brown joined the Lakers staff for the 2012 season, the offensive production slipped to 106.0, the lowest offensive output since the infamously tumultuous 2003-04 season.

In essence, the biggest priority is for the Lakers to get their scoring status back. Many see the glamor of the Forum blue and gold and expect high scoring flash and style. But the reality is that it hasn’t been that way in four years.

Next Page: Implementing Princeton in Los Angeles

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