Intellectual Theft: Brian Shaw

13 NBA teams will be entering the 2013-2014 season with a new head coach. Each of those coaches will face unique challenges, but should be able to draw on a pool of experience from their previous jobs. Intellectual Theft is a series looking at some specific elements that each coach can bring from their last job to their new team. Today’s focus is former Indiana Pacers assistant and new Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw.

Brian Shaw already answered the first of two inevitable questions going into his first year of coaching when he stated he was not interested in running the triangle offense. The next question is how he will draw on his NBA experience to help the point guards of the Denver Nuggets. During his 14 year career as a NBA point guard, Shaw was never known to be an offensive star, averaging 13.8 points per game in his highest scoring season, his second year, and averaging only 5.9 points per game for his career.

In Indiana, Shaw worked with a capable offensive player in George Hill and he will have another one in Denver with Ty Lawson. One aspect of the Pacers offensive playbook that Hill found success with that Shaw can implement with Lawson is how Hill uses handoffs from the big men to create his own shot.

Last season, Hill ranked 21th in the NBA with 1.06 points per possession (PPP) on handoffs, according to Synergy Sports. Hill used handoffs on 3.5% of his offensive possessions, shooting 47.5% on 40 possessions.

The set that the Pacers ran for Hill revolved around one of the Pacers big men, usually Roy Hibbert or David West setting up at the high post. Hill uses the hand off from a variety of angles, so the play is not always initiated the same way but the hand off action begins with the ball at the high post.

Hill 1

Hill must then be careful to run his defender off the big man, using the big man as a screen. This frees him up from his defender to get an open layup or jump shot. This handoff works because it gets Hill moving before the action and as he runs off his teammate, the handoff works as a quasi-ball screen. The defender can’t cheat toward the handoff because if he does, West would keep the ball and have a free lane to the rim.

Hill 2

Hill is strong at getting to the rim, shooting 65% on close shots according to, and these hand offs give him extra space on his drive for the layup. This is a simple set but it requires Hill to make quick cuts off the big man giving him the hand off to slow down his defender and giving him a lane to the rim.

If the first cut was guarded, Hill had the option to circle back after passing the elbow. Hill’s defender often thought he was going to cut through after the hand off failed, so Hill was able to find space as he made a second loop on the hand off. The defender was slow to react because the cut back toward the big man was sharp and Hill was already receiving the handoff before the defender knew Hill was circling back.

Hill 3

Hill is strong at getting to the rim, shooting 65% on close shots according to, and these hand offs give him extra space on his drive for the layup. This is a simple set but it requires Hill to make quick cuts off the big man giving him the hand off to slow down his defender and giving him a lane to the rim.

Lawson did not run many dribble handoffs, as Synergy logged only 1.8% of his offensive possessions as hand offs. Although Lawson did not use this type of play often, he was efficient out of this small sample, averaging 1.04 PPP on hand offs.

Many of Lawson’s hand offs did not come out of designed sets or actions to lead directly to dribble penetration but the majority of the plays logged as hand offs had the action early in the play several feet beyond the three point and were only designed to get Lawson the ball, not necessarily in a dangerous offensive position. Lawson’s efficiency out of hand offs was not related to the effectiveness of the hand off but more credit needs to be given to Lawson’s offensive prowess when analyzing his Synergy efficiency numbers related to hand offs.

The following clips show some of the misses that Lawson had on hand off plays. While the hand off action got Lawson the ball, it did not put him in an immediate position of strength with the ability to attack right away.

The Nuggets ran a similar hand off scheme to the Pacers at times, but it seems as though it was more as a result of motion than a designed set. The hand offs they ran for players other than Lawson looked similar to the ones ran for Lawson, as they did not seem to have any sets designed for their guards to use the hand off to create offense.

Shaw can bring this offensive set to the Nuggets so that Lawson can use hand offs to get into a dangerous offensive position. Lawson shot 61% on close shots, according to, and Shaw implementing this type of dribble hand off action will give Lawson more open opportunities at the rim. Lawson is a capable finisher close to the basket and this added wrinkle could free him up for some additional opportunities to finish with his defender on his back. In fact, this set can be used for any player, not just Lawson. If added to the Denver playbook, it will provide a new look for the Nuggets offense that will be difficult for many defenses to guard.


  1. Coach BD says:

    Even though Shaw is not interested in running the triangle offense, it´s interesting to note that the kind of hand offs ran by Hill are similar to the so-called “pinch post” play courtesy of Tex Winter and Co.
    Maybe Brian Shaw will remember his Lakers days and incorporate such a play in his playbook.

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