When the Lakers landed Steve Nash, even before Dwight Howard, there was exultation across Lakers Land. The team would no longer need to run everything through Kobe Bryant, wouldn’t struggle getting the ball to the bigs, would have someone to quarterback, coordinate, and execute the offense. Yes, it was going to be a great new time in Hollywood. Then they added Dwight Howard! The best pick and roll point guard in the league according to Synergy Sports last year with the best pick and roll finisher last year according to the same! Genius!
And Mike Brown’s going to pretty much jack that up entirely.
In a wide-ranging piece on the Princeton offense from CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Steve Nash talked about the changes that he’ll have to make in his game in the Princeton offense Mike Brown is running. Nash is more than happy to do so and supportive, even excited, but things will be different.
It was more than notable that Nash used the term “completely opposite” to describe how the Princeton offense differs from the system he’s thrived in for years.
“We have multiple post players, which I’ve never really played with,” Nash said. “You have the ability to go in a number of different directions, whereas before we really relied on pick-and-rolls. We have pick-and-roll players here, but we also have the ability to go inside or go to Kobe and other guys to score the ball.”
Even in his 17th season, Bryant, 34, remains a scoring beast who needs to be fed in isolation, especially late in the shot clock when all else has failed. And despite all their talent, the Lakers are an older team. The seven-seconds-or-less approach, whereby Nash has spent the bulk of his career wearing down opponents with the dizzying force of numerous possessions, might have tired out the Lakers first. The downside? Nash, who has thrived with the ball in his hands the vast majority of the time, will no longer be the perpetual trigger man.
“I won’t have to make all the decisions,” Nash said. “We can go inside to our big guys and allow them to make a lot of the decisions, and obviously Kobe is still going to be our go-to-guy. In some ways, I won’t have the ball in my hands all the time and I’ll be spotting up and getting open shots, so it’s going to be a little bit different.”
Setting aside the fact that the ball is now going into Dwight Howard who will be tasked with passing to backdoor cutters and players swinging for jumpers, which inherently means that the great passer Pau Gasol is now cutting while the great-cutting Dwight Howard is passing, am I the only one that’s wondering why in God’s name you would decide to move to a system where Steve Nash doesn’t have the ball?
This isn’t about scoring. Nash on this team could score less than ten points a game and still have the highest offensive rating and points per possession off his shots and assists in the league. It’s about the fact that for the past seven years, when Steve Nash has the ball, good things happen for your offense. Amazing things. This isn’t rocket science. Steve Nash + Ball = Good. But for some reason, the Lakers are moving in the opposite direction of that. Even with the idea that Nash is getting up there in age, offensively, he’s the least of the defense’s worries, and so he’s not going to be taking a beating. But to make the offense work, he has to have the ball.
Nash with Gasol in the pick-and-pop is such an amazing idea on its own that it’s going to get overlooked. Bryant cutting off screens for catch-and-shoot curl jumpers could increase his field goal percentage by 5% or more. Howard and Nash on the pick and roll is a literally, and I mean literally literally, unstoppable combination without sacrificing all of your help defense, leaving Bryant or Gasol open to arguably the best passer in the game.
Why on Earth would you want to move away from that?
It’s not even about pace, it’s just about effectiveness.
The Lakers are still going to be incredible. They could run a Hawks-style isolation offense and still beat the crap out of teams. But the Princeton offense is going to leave a lot to be desired in terms of maximizing their assets. At some point you have to wonder if Mike Brown overthought how to get this super team on the road to a title. But of course, we have to wait and see. Howard’s an underrated passer, and Gasol’s versatile enough to do anything, and Nash is an incredible spot-up shooter. Maybe this works out. But conceptually, it just seems counterintuitive.