Despite last night’s mild stinker, I might have been a little hasty in dismissing the possibility of Nicolas Batum as a primary scorer. Batum has upped his career average in points by nearly six points while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three. Before last night, he’d been on a particular devastating tear, averaging 28.3 points, six rebounds, three assists and one steal over the previous three games. Batum had been playing very well, but still relied on one type of play to consistently score: the dribble hand-off.
According to NBA.com, the Charlotte Hornets have tallied the fourth-most possessions that utilize hand-offs in the league and score 1.09 points per possession (PPP) on them. Batum, in particular, has excelled in hand-offs. He’s participated in 22 possessions that use them – second in the league – while scoring a monstrous 1.41 PPP. He’s accomplished this while shooting 56.3 percent and drawing shooting fouls 18.2 percent of the time, per NBA.com. There’s little doubt that the Hornets’ incorporation of the dribble hand-off has helped the team achieve a top five offensive rating.
Dribble hand-offs require the two players involved in the action to be on the move. Unlike a normal pick-and-roll where the defender can force the ball handler away from the pick and to the baseline, the hand-off’s speed makes this task very difficult. The quickened pace of the play, along with the active dribble, inhibits the defender from coming between the ball handler and the pick.
The Hornets give the effectiveness of hand-offs an added wrinkle by deploying a pick in advance of the play, springing the player intent on receiving the hand-off from his original defender. The player now comes off the pick with a head of steam right into the hand-off, which acts as a second pick, giving the player space to shoot or a path to the rim:
Batum almost exclusively uses hand-offs as screens for jump shots. As you can see above, Batum came off the pick set by Kemba Walker on the right side of the floor and headed straight towards Marvin Williams, who was dribbling towards him. Williams set a screen while passing the ball to Batum. The picks set by Walker and Williams blocked off the defenders – Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic – from successfully challenging Batum’s shot.
Although Batum is currently shooting jump shots very well out of hand-offs, it’s a shame that he doesn’t go to the rim more often. Although he’s not explosive, his length allows him to cover large stretches of court and finish around the rim consistently. On shots less than eight feet from the rim, he’s shooting 52.8 percent. Although this is speculative, it ‘s possible that he could use his length to bait defenders and draw more fouls. He’s only averaging 3.6 free throw attempts per game, so it’d be ideal if he got to the line more and attempts more plays like the one below:
Batum might get most of the attention, but the rest of the Hornets have gotten into the hand-off action on the regular as well. Most of the time it’s been used as an opportunity to score, but the hand-off has also been used to create space and find the open shooter. The hand-off makes it hard for a defender to keep a player out of the middle off the floor, and when he does get into the middle it causes the defense to panic and collapse onto him. The ball handler can now make a pass to the open man. Jeremy Lamb created a corner three for Batum by doing just that below:
Head coach Steve Clifford deserves special attention for how he’s integrated dribble hand-offs into the Hornets’ offense this season. Along with the new personnel, his adjustments to the offense have made the Hornets into a possible playoff contender even though they lost one of their top players in the preseason. The offense is humming, and there’s definitely a buzz back in Charlotte.