Thanks to Mike Brown Auerbach, and the Lakers’ early season struggles, the Princeton offense has become a popular topic amongst analysts and talking heads. It’s this offense that many are saying is preventing Steve Nash, the Lakers’ offense, and the list of celebrities trying to find a seat on the LA bandwagon from reaching their full potential.
Closer to home, we see a version of this Princeton “Option” offense night in and night out with the Wine and Gold.
“What exactly is the Princeton offense you may ask?
“Is it an offense which features five guys with their collars popped? Not quite.
“An offense consisting of five guys who prefer a glass of red wine over a cold beer? Most likely not.
“An offense run primarily through the high post, that attacks mismatches through constant movement, pick and rolls, and back door cuts?” Bingo!
One of the easiest ways to tell when the Cavaliers are in their Princeton offense is when the ball starts up top in the hands of one their bigs.
Waiters brings the ball up the court and passes to Varejao at the top of the arc. Alonzo Gee will run from the baseline off a Kyrie Irving down screen, followed by Gee and Varejao running through the set’s first option.
Andy starts his dribble towards Gee and begins the first option. Gee has a step on his man, thanks in part to the Irving screen, which gives Andy the read to give the ball to Gee on a dribble handoff.
With his man trailing him, Gee turns the corner and now it’s simple math. Five wine colored jerseys vs. four in white. Coming off the handoff it is crucial for the Cavaliers to keep the floor spaced. Thompson and Waiters do a good job staying spaced, making it much harder for their man to help and recover on penetration.
Later in the game we see a similar set with the ball starting in Varejao’s hands at the top of the arc.
Here against the Clippers we see the Cavaliers run another option off of this Princeton set. Once again the ball starts in Andy’s hands at the top of the arc. He’ll dribble towards Gee and engage him in the handoff.
Gee comes off the screen ready to attack his mismatch with Varejao’s man. Irving’s defender is also watching Gee and prepared to help on a drive. Irving sees his man watching the ball, and take off on a back door cut.
The Princeton offense requires discipline to be run correctly. The goal is to run your set, run through all its options, and catch the defense in a moment of weakness. Once that moment comes, you attack and find an open teammate or some shooting room.
As mentioned earlier, Mike Brown and his Los Angeles Lakers also run some sets from the Princeton offense. This leaves Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to play the “Anderson Varejao” position as a point forward of sorts. Both Gasol and Howard can hurt teams in pick and roll situations like the ones that arise in many Princeton offense sets, but the two of them are much more destructive with Howard in the low post and Gasol stretching the floor.
Due to their struggles early on, Mike Brown and the Lakers have started to stray away from the Princeton “dribble handoff” sets that the Cavs continue to run with Varejao. However, despite their success generating points in other ways, and struggles with Princeton sets, Brown continues to push the Princeton philosophy on his team.This set should look familiar. Howard with the ball at the top of the arc, dribbling towards Metta World Peace for the dribble handoff.
Although the ball is on the wing and not with Gasol at the top of the arc, this is essentially the same look as the Alonzo Gee/Varejao handoff from two plays ago. In both plays, the big (Gasol/Varejao) , and the wing (World Peace/Gee) engage each other into a screen and roll.
World Peace comes off the Gasol screen and attacks the paint. Prince attempts recover on World Peace, who draws help from Kobe’s man. That means Kobe Bryant is open, and you never want to leave the Black Mamba alone.
The results have been mixed so far for Coach Scott and his club offensively. Against Washington, Varejao picked up nine assists from his point forward spot and the Cavaliers had great success with their Princeton sets. During the following game with Chicago, the Bulls upped the pressure and took the Cavs out of their offense early and often on most possessions. Against Milwaukee and Los Angeles the Cavs saw moderate success running Princeton sets but the real success came as the floor was spread wide with Irving or Waiters up top receiving a high ball screen. This allows Coach Scott to get his athletes in space, and let them do what they do best, get to the rim.
Look for the Cavaliers to continue running their Princeton sets thoughout the season, however, keep an eye on crunch time. Will they run through their offense? Or abandon the sets and simply let their athletes play ball?