It’s nearly the regular season folks, which means it’s time to start contrived “countdown to tipoff” pieces. Our series will be called the Calculated Countdown, where we take a particular statistic from last season that corresponds to the number of days left till tipoff and analyze it in the context of this upcoming year. Today we’re looking at the Bucks use of handoffs last season within their offense.
11 days to tipoff: Bucks ranked 11th in terms of handoff frequency on offense
So technically they’re tied with the Clippers for 10th, but they’re listed 11th on the NBA.com chart, so I’m taking it. Ranking 11th in handoffs on its face doesn’t mean much. They made up 4.8% of their play types, and the range handoff frequency is minimal across all teams going from 6.5% with the handoff happy Celtics to the puny 2.4% with the Wizards. Handoffs are really a product of a coach’s offensive style. Brad Stevens flow offense features multiple handoffs around the perimeter, something Gordon Hayward should float into nicely considering the Jazz rank in the top-ten in this statistic as well. What might be important about this statistic for the Bucks though? Their proficiency.
By purely statistical figures, Milwaukee didn’t have a significant problem generating offense last year. They ranked 13th in terms of offensive efficiency despite attempting just the 23rd most threes (pace-adjusted) in the league. Still, no one would call Milwaukee’s offense world beaters, let alone inventive. While we all hope they go for the low-hanging fruit on the bountiful tree of basketball efficiency (threes), there are other ways they can find ways to utilize their strengths in more effective ways. One of those is handoffs, on which Milwaukee scored in the 90th percentile in terms of efficiency.
What’s most instructive about their .99 points per possession figure is looking at their eFG% and their free throw frequency on those handoff plays. Those figures are 52.5% (3rd best on handoffs) and 5.1% (2nd lowest on handoffs) respectively. What that tells us is Milwaukee isn’t using these handoffs as ways to give guys a head of steam before barreling towards the hoop. Their handoffs are primarily perimeter-based, oftentimes to help free guys like Tony Snell or Khris Middleton for a rapid-fire 3-pointer.
I wrote extensively about how the Giannis-Snell dribble handoff is my favorite play Milwaukee ran last year. It was wildly effective too, with Snell ranking among the most efficient and prolific players in the league off handoffs last year. Snell’s handoffs alone made up nearly 1/5th of Milwaukee’s overall handoffs all season, and set the basket ablaze with his 63.3% eFG percentage. Mirza Teletovic saw similar success, with a 56.7% eFG mark that far eclipsed his season-long mark of 49.8%.
Teams will be wise to one of Milwaukee’s favorite pet plays next year after Snell’s success. They have more weapons to utilize though with Khris Middleton around all year. Middleton used handoffs less frequently than Mirza or Snell, and his potency wasn’t quite there post-injury, but he’s tailor-made for the identical play Snell runs with Giannis. Even envisioning both Snell and Middleton on one side of the floor, Khris trailing behind Snell as he runs past Giannis and forcing defenses to decipher who Giannis will free up with a screen could be deadly. Run the action enough and if Giannis’ defender cheats off to deter the handoff, Giannis can audible and veer straight to the basket instead.
Handoffs aren’t sexy plays, but they’ve been one of Milwaukee’s most effective perimeter attacks. With more outside weapons in the starting lineup, they could prove even more deadly this season.