In the wake of the poor performance the Los Angeles Lakers and their collection of superstars put together on opening night, much of the attention has turned to coach Mike Brown's off-season decision to instill the Princeton offense. It's easy to understand why; in the second half of last night's contest, as the Dallas Mavericks pulled away, the Lakers offense looked discombobulated and out of sorts. Their final tally of 1.02 points per possession is woeful. And compounding matters is the fact that the Lakers have a seemingly sure fire and ready-made offense waiting in the wings in a Steve Nash led pick and roll.
I get it. Hell, I believe it to a certain extent. I do think it is strange to sign one of the game's great point guards amd then throw him into an offense that marginalizes his talents. I do think it's stupid to have (possibly) the best PNR point guard and (undoubtedly) the best PNR big man and not let that be the focus of the offense. I understand and at least partially agree with this criticism. There's just one issue ... the offense wasn't the problem last night.
Let's go back to that 1.02 PPP number. It's pretty bad, well below league average as compared to the last few seasons. But a big part of that number was one of the worst displays of free throw shooting you will ever see. The Lakers shot 38.7% from the stripe and left 19 points on the board in an eight point loss. Move that number to just 60%, and the Lakers lose by one. With Dwight Howard in tow, free throw shooting is never going to be a Laker strength, but even at his worst, he is usually good for 50% from the line, and his teams have never shot less than 60% combined. The free throw performance was a straight up outlier, and without it, the Laker offense looked decent,
Actually, in the first half, it looked better than decent. At the end of the first half, the Lakers were shooting 55% from the floor. They had 16 assists on 24 baskets. The aforementioned free throws and too many turnovers kept the overall performance muted, but we finally got a glimpse of why the offense might be a good idea. Even after a poor offensive showing in the second half, the Laker tallies of nearly 50% shooting and 24 assists would be enough to make my heart swoon if they keep up over the full season. And ironically, as pointed out by Darius from Forum Blue and Gold, much of the Lakers' struggles came when they went away from the Princeton offense to chase the game.
None of this is to say the Princeton offense is a good idea. But to focus on the offense on a night in which the offense showed promise while the Lakers gave up 1.11 PPP to a Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki is missing the point. The defense was poor last night, and the main culprit, to these eyes at least, was a step-slow Dwight Howard. He was beaten to a surprising number of offensive rebounds, and while he wasn't the only guy slow to rotations, he was hardly the eraser that we've come to expect.
Everything that has been said throughout the preseason about the Lakers defense basically amounts to this: The Lakers are going to be a suspect defensive unit, but Dwight Howard is so good that he can make them solid defensively single handed. What that means is that the Lakers are relying on Dwight Howard to be spectacular defensively. Last night, he was not spectacular. This isn't his fault; the man is recovering from a serious injury and needs some time to shake the cob webs out of his game. In time, I have little doubt that Dwight will continue to be the DPOY presence that he has been throughout his career. But until he gets there, the Lakers defense is going to be a problem, and the Lakers offense is going to need to score a lot of points.
I have no idea whether the Princeton offense is the way to do that. I only know that using last night's game as an excuse to bash the Princeton offense just doesn't jive with the action that took place on the court.