Opening night and last night’s games did not go as planned for the Los Angeles Lakers. The offense was stagnant as timing was off and the players were a step ahead of themselves. Twitter was flooded by Laker fans with their reactions to the team’s performance. The usual calling for the firing of Mike Brown was a popular topic, as was the demand to desert the new Princeton offense mix that the Lakers are trying to utilize in their game plan.
The team’s lack of defense and overall passion in Tuesday’s home opener and on Wednesday in Portland did not help their cause and was, frankly, a bit surprising. In my opinion, the team’s lack of defense was the main cause that led to so many problems in the first two games of the new season; this must be addressed.
I understand some of the frustration of the fans, because as a Laker fan myself, I want the Lakers to win every game, even though I know how unrealistic that is. Yet, in my opinion, I have to disagree with the arguments of ridding the Princeton offense as I see it being too soon to completely scratch off the idea. I do not agree with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal when they called the Princeton offense “stupid” for the Lakers. After all, shouldn’t we save our judgement until we actually have enough sample data to analyze?
There is a reason why the Princeton offense was brought in by Mike Brown and encouraged by Kobe Bryant. They know that once everyone has a clear understanding of its principles and are able to implement it without over-thinking every possession, the Princeton offense will take every players’ strengths to a new high. Since the Princeton offense depends on being able to make reads of not only the defense, but also on your teammates’ body language on offense, we must give the Lakers more than two games and eight preseason games to gel with the system and with each other.
Enough of my tangent on the Princeton offense. I would like to discuss the player that will have the quickest and smoothest transition of the Princeton-style offense that the Lakers are running along with the pick-and-roll and Kobe-iso plays. Pau Gasol is set to benefit from all these situations of the new offensive philosophy. The main reason for this is because Pau is the most skilled big man in the league today and has been for several years now.
“We’re spending a lot of time with it, but it’s a big offense. There’s so many options. There’s so many counters. There’s so many automatics. There’s a lot of stuff, and it’s not like set plays, most of them. Just having everybody on the same page and executing the plays and understanding the options, the counters. We have to get to our offense a little quicker. Which seems like we are jogging to it instead of running to it crisply.”
Gasol is a seven-footer that is a pass-first type of player, who can recognize the pass deep in the post. This skill is a rare commodity with bigs in today’s game. Gasol has an incredible basketball IQ and court vision for a big man, with solid passing skills. This is perhaps why we are seeing Gasol showcasing comfort with this system already. Defensively, Pau is too often too late on defensive rotations which leads to more shooting opportunities for opponents.
Second, Steve Nash and Gasol will mesh very well with each other. Once things get settled and timing for each other gets in sync, Nash will be able to exploit Gasol’s strengths and skills in both the low and high post with the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game. Nash has already been given the green light to run the pick-and-roll at any time. It appears that Nash is holding it back a bit to familiarize the team with the Princeton offense. Additionally, as we have seen for years now, Gasol and Bryant work very well with each other and their ability to read each other is about as good as it gets in the league.
In the season opener against Dallas, Pau Gasol seemed the most comfortable with the hybrid offense, especially in the first half; Gasol ended the night with 23 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks. In last night’s game in Portland, Gasol had a strong first half, but quieted down once Nash left the game with a leg contusion. Overall, Gasol posted 16 points and 9 rebounds on Wednesday night.
While Gasol has already shown glimpses of the benefits of the new Lakers’ offensive system, I understand the frustration and hesitation to buy into the system. Personally, I am a results driven type of person who routinely has to remind myself to be patient. Therefore, I know it’s easy to make judgements quickly when it looks like only one player is showing its benefits so far.
However, as stated before, this system runs on chemistry, or as Metta World Peace calls it, love. Once the team’s offense clicks and they can play with fluidity, their defense will improve greatly. In the meantime, other nuances in the defense must be addressed as soon as possible. The players’ performances have been disappointing and absolutely frustrating. It will take time, but if they stick with it, the outcome will be worth it.