The dribble handoff has been one of the more used actions in the league this season. According to Synergy Sports, the average team last year used handoffs on 3.8 percent of their possessions. This season, the frequency has gone up to 4.3 percent of possessions for the average team. As the league evolves and teams find new ways to counter defenses, the dribble handoff has become a more viable option.
Tom Thibeodeau is famous for revolutionizing the way NBA defenses guard pick and rolls. His patented "ICE" defense is designed to send the ball handler away from the screen and toward the baseline, thwarting the offensive team's attempts at getting into the lane to create an advantage. Here is a picture of how the Bulls "ICE" pick and rolls on the side.
More and more teams have gone to the "ICE" (also known as "BLUE" or "DOWN") coverage in pick and rolls after the success the Chicago teams have had with it. One way to counter this type of defense while also creating an advantage would be to use the dribble handoff, which is seemingly what teams are trying to do more early this season.
The dribble handoff is essentially what it sounds like. One player with the ball will dribble right at the defender of one of their teammates and then instead of passing the ball, they hand it off like a quarterback hands off a football to the running back. This works and functions like a pick and roll since the player is dribbling at his teammates defender. The defender has no choice but to be effected by a screen due to the positioning of this action. Watch Spencer Hawes run this action to perfection to help create an advantage for Jeremy Lin. Lin's man has no choice but to run into Hawes' screen once he hands it off.
Amongst the league leaders in both amount of handoffs and efficiency on those handoffs is the Charlotte Hornets. According to Synergy, the Hornets have scored off of handoffs the fifth most of any team while posting the second best efficiency scoring out of those handoffs.
Coach Steve Clifford has crafted this offense to fit his personnel, and this includes the dribble handoff. All of his bigs are mobile and willing screeners who can also handle the ball well enough to execute a dribble handoff. Cody Zeller is one of the more mobile bigs in the league. Same with Marvin Williams. As awkward as Spencer Hawes can be at times, he is a big body for screens, he plays hard, and is surprisingly adept at handling the ball and making plays for a guy his size. Those same things can be said for Frank Kaminsky, whose play making off the dribble has been a nice little addition to this Hornets' frontcourt.
Coach Clifford has solidified himself as one of the leading candidates for coach of the year by implementing such a highly efficient offense, and it is no surprise that he has the Hornets as one of the teams executing handoffs successfully.