Glimpses of the Game: The Dribble Handoff

May 29th, 2015 | by Clint Johnson

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One use of the dribble handoff prevents Rudy Gobert from having to take jump shots like these. [Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images]

Glimpses of the Game are short profiles on an aspect of the game of basketball.  Each includes a definition of the play, technique, or element, the purposes of it, and how the subject is employed by Quin Snyder within the Jazz offensive and/or defensive system.

THE DRIBBLE HANDOFF

Definition

When the ball handler dribbles to or by a teammate and hands the ball to that player.  The action sometimes involves a very short pass rather than a handoff and does not always require that the initial ball handler dribble with the ball (a handoff).

Purpose

Getting a ball handler into close proximity to a teammate allows multiple possibilities.  It makes for an easy pass over short distance to a player typically coming toward the pass, one often expecting the ball as well.  This makes ball denial more difficult.   Also, each player involved can execute the action in motion: the ball handler can handoff in mid-dribble while his teammates can receive the handoff at a run.  Finally, the initial ball handler can screen or otherwise use his body to disrupt either his own or his teammate’s defender.

These last two options make the dribble handoff similar to the more frequently discussed pick and roll.  Both involve two (or rarely more) offensive players working together to force defenders to make choices that offensive players then react to.  A ball handler may fake the handoff and keep the ball as his teammates passes by, fake the handoff and pivot with the ball, hand the ball off and continue his motion, or hand the ball off and attempt to screen a nearby defender.

The options the action affords make it one of the most commonly utilized in basketball.

Dribble Handoffs in Quin Snyder’s Motion Offense

The Jazz use the dribble handoff frequently as the first action of an offensive set.  The point guard advanced the ball beyond half court but then distributes the ball to the offensive playmaker for the set by using a dribble handoff.  Sometimes several dribble handoffs are executed in quick succession to get players in motion and force the defense to move in turn.

The point is to get the ball into the hands of an offensive playmaker.  The dribble handoff is particularly valuable in this situation when the defense is applying ball denial.

In the following play note Gordon Hayward, Utah’s primary offensive orchestrator, at the right corner of the court.  Trevor Ariza, one of the better wing defenders in the NBA, is positioned to deny him the ball.  Watch how the Jazz use a screen followed by a dribble handoff to get Hayward the ball so he can create.1

In this example, Derrick Favors screens Ariza after handing off the ball.  With Ariza out of position after getting caught on and then going under the screen, and with Dwight Howard reluctant to abandon the paint, James Harden’s attention is drawn to Hayward.  Alec Burks slides to the corner where Hayward hits him with a bounce pass off the dribble for an open corner three, one of the most desirable shots in the game.

The Jazz were highly dependent upon Hayward to initiate and drive half court offense in the 2014-2015 season.  Teams that successfully denied him the ball, or that delayed his receiving it, gave themselves a notable defensive advantage.  To a lesser extent, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, and Rodney Hood all served as secondary playmakers for the Jazz, and going forward their development – as well as procuring more players able to create and initiate offense – will be a primary objective for the team.  Look for dribble handoffs to these playmakers early in the offense as well as with the shot clock running down.  It will be a staple of the system and indicate the players Coach Snyder sees as best able to drive his offense.

The past season saw another development that will increase the importance and frequency of the dribble handoff in the Jazz offense: the emergence of Rudy Gobert.

The Jazz employ a traditional two-big system rather than the increasingly popular configurations of four perimeter players with an interior presence or one stretch big with a traditional paint defender.  Offensively, this relative lack of long distance shooting creates spacing issues.  Defenders congregate in the paint where they can contest layups, cut off drives to the basket, and more easily rotate for help defense.  Teams without sufficiently accurate shooting typically struggle to score against such defense.

In the following clip, watch Andrew Bogut’s defense of Gobert.

For all Gobert’s awesome defensive and rebounding impact, his offensive skill is a liability.  This is painfully obvious when he is on the floor with Derrick Favors, as in the clip above.  Not only does Bogut never step beyond the paint, but he consistently shifts even further from Gobert to help shut down any drives or cuts to the basket.  The Jazz essentially play four on five – to predictable results.

An already limited offensive team, the Jazz’s offense bogged down even further as defenses sagged off Gobert whenever he moved to the perimeter.  As many virtues as the Favors and Gobert tandem presents, it’s primary liability is shooting.  Gobert compounds this liability with his at-present non-existent offensive post game.  Even bringing Derrick Favors, a much improved but still only respectable shooter, beyond fifteen feet offers limited spacing benefits.  Gobert simply lacks the offensive game to threaten defenses beyond finishing opportunistically at the rim.

Given the situation, Snyder’s best option was often to get Gobert out of the paint (hoping his defender would follow) and then use the dribble handoff to attempt to get a playmaker the ball as early in the shot clock as possible.  Late in the shot clock the offense functions better in pick and roll or isolation sets, given the ball is in the hands of a playmaker rather than Gobert (or to a lesser degree Favors).  But in early half-court offense, the Jazz resorted to even more frequent use of the dribble handoff from a big at the elbow or free throw line extended.  Both Favors and Gobert are used in this way frequently.

The team appears committed to a two-big system, which will continue to present spacing challenges in the coming years.  This will ensure that the dribble handoff will be a frequent and significant action in the Jazz offense, used on almost every offensive possession many games.  Players’ ability to master the action will go a long way to maximizing the offensive potential of the team.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

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5 Comments

  1. UtahsMrSports says:

    Very nice article!

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Thank you. Expect more of these features in the future. If you have ideas on what aspects of the game we should focus on, please make recommendations.

      • casey says:

        I have one. Quin’s motion offense with two non floor spacers vs. quin’s motion offense with only one non floor spacer. I think basically it will be how the offense looked before Quin started playing Rudy and Favors together, to how it looked towards the end of the season. Is the motion offense still as desirable with two bigs? Thanks!

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