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Bucks Breakdown: The Giannis-Snell Dribble Handoff

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How Milwaukee uses Giannis’ wingspan to clear up space for Tony Snell from the perimeter

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Snell’s arrival to Milwaukee came with a collection of caveats from Bulls fans burnt for years by his inability to develop an off-the-dribble game or find consistent minutes on teams burning out gears on the treadmill of mediocrity. The Bucks welcomed his one appreciable skill (three-point shooting), and giddily swapped it out for the manic, cover-your-eyes driving skills of Michael Carter-Williams. Snell’s improved three-point percentage and attempt rate have clearly been integral to his success this season and some of that potency comes from a play that barely even qualifies as a play: the Giannis-Snell dribble handoff.

What it lacks in fancy, it certainly makes up for in functionality. It’s become a once-a-game treat for this Bucks offense, and it almost always nets Snell a clear release from the arc. Snell’s stayed in his lane more than an Olympic swimmer this year, and that dedication to exemplifying his “role player” status pays off dearly here.

It starts with the most simplistic of basketball actions, dribbling. Giannis generally receives the ball near the top of the arc, slowly shifting to the wing on either side of the floor and clearing out the strong side whenever possible. Here, Brogdon’s just passed Giannis the ball, who then spots a lurking Snell in the corner. He motions Snell to come hither while Brogdon, Beasley and Henson clear out to the weak side after Henson flashed to the high post.

As Snell starts his movement, Giannis continues his perimeter dribble to politely meet him at the wing. Meanwhile, Giannis’ man, Dante Cunningham, is guarding him like a XXL T-shirt, knowing full well that Giannis isn’t likely to pull-up from deep. That affords Giannis the free space necessary to lull him to sleep, and perform what looks like a perfunctory hand-off to Snell on the perimeter. However, that pocket allows Giannis to parlay his nonchalant handoff into an opportunity to block Snell’s man, Buddy Hield, by continuing his movement, and extending his vulture legs into Hield’s body as Snell whips around Giannis’ massive frame.

That opening is the only space Snell needs to rocket his pinball launcher release into the hoop. The miss here is a rarity, Snell is sporting a 66.7% effective field goal percentage on handoffs. Here’s the full sequence:

The success of the play is very much dependent both on the massive length of Antetokounmpo disrupting Snell’s defender, and Snell’s propensity for rifling shots through the narrowest of openings. Snell is currently in the 94th percentile in terms of points per play this year on handoffs. His 1.25 points per possession is spectacular, even if it’s on only one possession per game.

When they’re feeling frisky, Giannis and Snell don’t even need the center to clear out and will just start the action like it’s second nature. Last night, Milwaukee did that precise thing in the first half, duping the Knicks to create a breezy release for Snell. Thon’s presence here actually creates the initial separation between Giannis and Lance Thomas, allowing Giannis an easy stroll to the wing. Once there, he’s so in sync with Snell that he simply tosses the ball in the air like a quarterback leading his receiver, knowing full well that Snell will be there to rise and fire. Meanwhile, Giannis practically teleports away to set up the quick screen on Courtney Lee while a stupefied Lance Thomas can only gape at Snell’s easy shot:

The play’s entire makeup is made to leverage Snell’s strengths. Unlike some 2-guards, he recognizes his relative inability to create anything off the dribble, a knowledge illustrated by his low 5.8% turnover percentage and 1.9% free throw percentage out of handoffs. Snell is a straight shooter in every sense of the word, besides his ideal location from beyond the arc that is. Indeed, this action even capitalizes on the most efficient geographical location on Snell’s 3-point shot chart.

Play type statistics are only available form the start of last season, but Snell didn’t shoot nearly this well on handoffs (40.6% eFG) last year. They also made up less of his already limited repertoire in Chicago. Snell’s future with the franchise remains an open question to deal with this summer, but Milwaukee’s at least leveraging the talent he does have with this quick, but quietly effective play.