EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Although Steve Nash has a Ph.D. in the pick-and-roll, he’s spending this month as a freshman in Princeton.
The Princeton offense, that is. After 16 seasons and two MVP awards, the Los Angeles Lakers’ new point guard is learning a new way to play.
The Lakers are incorporating major elements of the sophisticated ball-movement schemes collectively known as the Princeton offense into their game plan this fall, and Nash is largely in charge of making sure it works fluidly.
Along with new teammates and a new city, it all adds up to a busy October for a sharpshooting playmaker who’s not coasting on his credentials as one of the greatest pick-and-roll artists of his generation.
“It’s going to be a big transition for me, but one I’m excited to take on and be open-minded about,” Nash said. “I think that the beauty of this team is that we have a lot of guys that can make the defense pay. If we play together, and we space the floor, and we read and react, we can be a difficult team to cover.”
Eddie Jordan, the veteran coach who joined Mike Brown’s staff as an assistant last month, is working with Nash to make it happen. Jordan is watching over every offensive drill in the first few days of training camp, consulting frequently with Nash and Kobe Bryant while correcting missteps by Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard.
“I don’t think it’s something that we’ll really have to struggle through,” Bryant said. “It’s a pretty seamless transition. … I kind of relate it to the first year that Phil (Jackson) came here and put in the triangle offense. You had a lot of players that had high basketball IQ, and we just picked it up right away.”
The Princeton plan has similarities to the triangle offense, particularly in the read-and-react mentality necessary to make it work. Triangle veterans Bryant and Gasol already recognize much of what they’re supposed to do, and everybody has played against the offense before.
Brown realizes he’s taking a risk by installing the Lakers’ third new offense in three years, but believes they have the veteran personnel to make it work.
“There’s going to be some aspects of what we did last year involved in the offense,” Brown said. “But there’s going to be some Princeton things that Steve Nash will have the ability to go to, with certain ball movement, or a pass, or a player movement, or a hand signal. We feel like all the pieces of it really flow, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it turns out.”
The Lakers’ offense stagnated for long stretches of last season, with the club’s scoring settling in the middle of the NBA pack after declining more than four points per game from Jackson’s final year with the club. Los Angeles even went 13 consecutive games in the middle of the year without scoring more than 100 points, setting a new nadir for the franchise that once defined Showtime basketball.
After the Lakers were knocked out of the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year, Brown decided to try the Princeton plan, saying he has “always been fascinated with that offense.”
Brown even changed his coaching staff to make the move. The architect is Jordan, who learned the offense from former Princeton coach Pete Carril when both were with the Sacramento Kings. Jordan used it while he ran the Washington Wizards, who lost to Brown’s Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the postseason in three straight years from 2006-08.
“If you took away everybody’s different abilities and you turned everybody into robots, I always thought that offense would be the hardest to defend,” Brown said. “Because the spacing was tremendous. The ball movement was tremendous. The ability to play a stress-free game was off the charts. Those things have always attracted me to it. I just never had an understanding or an opportunity to be able to implement it.”
Brown also felt he never had a team that could handle it: He willingly ran endless pick-and-rolls for LeBron James in Cleveland, much the same schemes that Miami uses now. A year in Los Angeles convinced him the Lakers are ready for something tougher.
“This is a very intelligent team, and they play well when it comes to using a motion offense and using their intelligence,” Brown said.
Nash knows he’ll still run plenty of pick-and-rolls, but the creative aspect of the Princeton offense appeals to his artistic side. He’s confident the Lakers have enough time and determination to find their flow well before the playoffs.
“Hopefully we can be up to speed when the regular season starts, but we realize we’re going to have work to do all the way up to the playoffs,” Nash said. “It’s a lot of connectivity that has to take place. You have to read the guy in front of you. There’s limitless possibilities out of it. Once we get a handle on it, it will be difficult to defend.”