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Kobe And The Lakers Go To Princeton

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Kobe Bryant‘s championship window with the Los Angeles Lakers is closing, but it’s not shut yet. Especially not with Steve Nash coming on board next season.

Nash, whose teams led the league in offensive efficiency for nine straight seasons from 2001-02 to 2009-10, will clearly improve the Lakers’ offense, which ranked 10th in efficiency last season. But L.A. isn’t only counting on a new point guard to get them back into title contention.

As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports writes, the Lakers will be switching to the Princeton offense next season and hiring Eddie Jordan as an assistant coach to run it.

Jordan happens to be the foremost Princeton authority in the NBA, the heir to architect Pete Carril, and that’s an immense part of why the Lakers are moving toward an agreement to hire Jordan as an assistant coach. Jordan sold his vision of the offense to a most willing subject, and ultimately Bryant departed for these Olympics convinced that the Lakers have a sound plan of action for the 2012-13 season.

“It’s a great offense,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “It’s exactly what we need. It takes us back to being able to play by making reads and reacting to defenses. It takes a great deal of communication, but that’s where we’re at our best: Reading and reacting as opposed to just coming down and calling sets. Calling sets make you vulnerable.

“There’s so many threats, so many options, it’s very tough to defend. Against the type of defenses that teams play nowadays, they load up on one side and are constantly coming with help from the weak side. The Princeton offense makes it very, very tough to lock in on one particular player.”

The last time we saw Jordan run the Princeton offense, his 2009-10 Sixers had a disastrous season, ranking 20th offensively and winning just 27 games. But the offense has had plenty of success in the past, ranking in the top five in five different seasons with the Kings (under Rick Adelman), Wizards (under Jordan) and Hornets (under Byron Scott). And the Lakers have as much or more offensive talent (as well as the requisite basketball IQ) than any of those teams.

Top five offenses that ran the Princeton

Team Season W L OffRtg RK League Avg. Diff.
Sacramento 2003-04 55 27 107.3 2 100.0 +7.3
Sacramento 2001-02 61 21 106.4 3 101.6 +4.8
Sacramento 2004-05 50 32 107.5 4 103.1 +4.4
New Orleans 2007-08 56 26 109.0 5 104.7 +4.3
Washington 2006-07 41 41 106.7 5 103.7 +2.9

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

The Princeton is similar to the Triangle in some ways. And it may seem odd that the Lakers are switching to an offense that doesn’t utilize traditional point guard play just as they’re bringing on the best traditional point guard in the league.

But Jason Kidd and Chris Paul have been MVP candidates running the Princeton, and Nash is a better shooter than either of them. Pau Gasol‘s passing skills are also a perfect fit for the Princeton, where the big men are often handling the ball in the (high or low) post.

Teams need time to get used to the Princeton and develop the chemistry needed to run it effectively, so the Lakers’ offense won’t be a well-oiled machine early in the season. But with time, they have a real chance to be top-three offensive team next season.

How Andrew Bynum fits in is maybe the only real question here. And as far as that other center in Orlando, let’s just forget about him until something (other than rumors and talk) actually happens.