Spotlight: James Johnson's Handoffs

James Johnson makes for a better door than a window. Just ask the guys chasing around Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson.

Making a bid for Best Supporting Action of the young NBA season, dribble hand-offs are one of NBA Twitter’s percolating talking points. And with his pitch-and-screen play, the Miami Heat’s point-forward James Johnson is ahead of the curve.

Pick-and-rolls aren’t the only way to generate good looks from 3. Sometimes it just takes a single, stout screen. The type of duet that Johnson’s hand-offs produce are uniquely unwieldy for defenses. Unlike a classic pick-and-roll, there is no big man running up from the paint to set a screen — the type of actions that defenses have planned for and can see coming. What James does is a little sneakier. While pedestrianly toeing the 3-point line, Johnson trots his way over to the wing, then flips the ball to a shooter and snaps into a screen — all in one motion — walling off defenders and setting up his teammate.

It’s not just Johnson’s intent to Deebo the shooter’s defender that makes this play so effective, though, it’s where he does it: On the weak-side sideline, where there’s no help defense.  

Miami likes to spread the floor with shooters, making it virtually impossible for anyone to help on Johnson while he’s exploiting the weak-side defense.

Here, either  Johnson’s defender needs to jump out on the shooter, or the shooters man needs to get past Johnson. Good luck on the latter. Being that Johnson is lined up directly between the shooter and the defense, switching defensive assignments would still be difficult — even if you recognized it in time.

There’s not a lot of time to switch onto a guy who’s pulling up for a jump shot within the same second he’s receiving the ball, especially when that guy is Ellington.

Generating an open 3 is something NBA teams are dying to do in 2017. James Johnson is getting it done with a single screen and Hodor-like unselfishness.

You go, shoot; I’ll hold them back.


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