The Princeton offense is a complex offensive basketball strategy created by Pete Carril of Princeton University. It emphasizes back-door cuts, constant motion, and setting picks on and off the ball.
What is the Princeton Offense in basketball?
Created by the Hall-of-Fame coach Pete Carril, the Princeton Offense is an offensive scheme predicated on skills and IQ. It is called an unstructured type of motion offense that does not require constant play-calling from the coach. Instead, the players will have to make the right reads and plays as they play.
The Princeton is one of the first offenses that feature positionless basketball. All five players are trusted to make moves and decisions at any point.
This offense accentuates back-door cuts. Many believed Carril to be the inventor of the back-door play because of its frequent use.
Today, many coaches do not run the pure Princeton offense. Still, elements of it are present in every offensive system.
This offense is often plodding and deliberate. It is often an excellent strategy against quick, fast-breaking teams that prefer a faster style of play.
Proponents of the Princeton offense in the NBA include former Kings coach Rick Adelman, to who Carril was an assistant. It was pretty much the offense that carried the Sacramento Kings teams during the early 2000s.
What Type of Team Should Run the Princeton Offense?
The Princeton offense is not for everyone. It requires a team with big men who can play the high and low posts and make decisions. Think Chris Webber and Vlade Divac for the Kings.
Another requirement was four shooters that surround the perimeter. Again, along with Divac and Webber (both excellent perimeter shooters), the Kings teams have Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, and Doug Christie. Stojakovic was one of the best during his prime, while Bibby and Christie are respectable deep shooters. Off those Kings bench were Bobby Jackson and Hedo Turkoglu, who are all excellent decision-makers.
If you don’t have that type of personnel, you may want to look in another direction.
Read about the Motion Offense.
Pros and Cons of the Princeton Offense
Does not take a toll on the players’ bodies. The Princeton is an equal-opportunity offense. It requires all five players to handle the ball and make decisions. Hence, the responsibility does not fall squarely on one player’s shoulders. It is divided.
Difficult to read and defend. When everything flows on the Princeton offense, the missiles come from anywhere. This makes it a nightmare to defend. Also, it could frustrate opponents that want to play fast.
Highly Adaptable. No matter how the defense reacts, a team running a Princeton offense knows what to do. If you overplay, they go back-door; if you clog the lane, they’ll kick it outside.
Equalizes lack of size and athleticism. When playing basketball, those who are big, tall, and athletic have natural advantages. The Princeton offense could negate that, assuming you have the right personnel of high IQ basketball players.
Cancels out the talent of the players. The Los Angeles Lakers ran a Princeton offense under Mike Brown. Needless to say, it did not work out. At that time, the team had Kobe Bryant, who has always been ball-dominant. Plus, they also have Steve Nash, who likes to run the pick-and-roll. If you have a high-volume scorer like Bryant, running a Princeton offense does not fully take advantage of his skillset.
It may not work on the professional level. Elements of the Princeton is present in any offense today, even in the NBA. However, if you run the pure variation, the cons may outweigh the pros. Carril may have won 66% of his college games with this offense, but NBA defenses are too good. On the other end, every team in the professional ranks has a capable iso scorer, so it could end up hampering his development.
Difficult to teach. Since all players are allowed to play different positions in this offense, expect a steep learning curve. All of your players must know how to play all the actions, and that could take literally take forever.
Requires Proper Spacing at All Times. Spacing is everything in basketball, much more so in the Princeton offense. Everything is timed and coordinated; if one lag behind or players get bunched up, the offense is ruined.
Requires Patience. Players today are often taught to play quick and attack before the defense is set. In Princeton, everything is deliberate, and most actions are repeated to get the desired result. If a team doesn’t have that type of decision-makers, then it’s not going to work.
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