clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook: ‘Horns Action’

Time for more film.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The is the second edition in our Atlanta Hawks offensive playbook series. Last week, we took a look at the “Power Forward Post” set. While the post sets we looked at are not a fit to be run through just any big on the roster, the “Horns” sets should be available in almost any lineup configuration.

Let’s take a look.

This is a good look at the most basic action in the Horns set. Typically, the point guard starts with the ball at the top of the key. The two bigs come up above the free throw line and should set up no wider than width of the lane. The idea in this action is to separate the ball handler from his defender and let him get downhill attacking the rim.

On this play, Dennis Schroder is able to easily dribble past Tarik Black and get the easy layup for the bucket.

Another objective of this action is to force the defending guard that you put into the action to eventually have to help with rebounding responsibilities as at least one of the offensive bigs trails the ball heading straight to the rim to threaten the offensive glass. On this play, D’Angelo Russell offers little resistance as Dwight Howard gets optimal position if the layup is not converted.

On this set, Schroder and Howard are able to drag their screen action far enough away from the middle of the floor that Ivica Zubac has to help Russell deny Schroder the path to the rim. The play stresses Tarik Black as the back side defender so much that he stays level with Howard. Zubac actually does a nice job on this play denying Schroder while also staying attached to Howard. He uses his hands well and makes himself a wide defender.

Schroder is able to pass the ball back to Millsap for a wide open three point attempt. The stress on Black as a defender on this play is real. Should he trust Zubac to cover the potential lob to Howard if he does not get deep enough in his help defense? Or does he shade his help toward Howard but stay reasonable attached to Millsap? This is the exact stress this action is intended to place upon the defense.

This is another example of a screen on one side of the Horns set creating a catch and shoot opportunity for the big on the other side. Mike Muscala gets a great look here. He has a very quick catch and shoot release for a center and shot 40.4% from 3-point range last season. He shot 41.3% on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season which translates to an offensive rating of 123.9 on those possessions, so this is a valuable shot.

Even though the 3-point attempt is missed on this play, you can see how challenging it is for the defense to recover to an ideal rebounding position against this action. Howard gets to the front of the rim. Schroder gets the long rebound and draws the foul to retain possession.

This is a Horns set with another wrinkle. Notice that Schroder initiates play to the left of the offensive formation. As he dribbles back to the middle to where they would normally start the set, Muscala sets a screen in the opposite direction as is normal in this action. You can see the defensive confusion as K.J. McDaniels works across potential screens from both bigs but the path to the rim for Muscala is left open as James Harden offers very little help defense from the weak side corner.

To be fair to Harden, McDaniels has a responsibility to “tag” Muscala on this play as to give a timing indicator to Harden in the corner in terms of knowing when to be prepared to come with the help defense. But, again, you can see the stress the action here creates on the defense.

The Hawks love to use SLOB (sideline out of bounds) opportunities to get quickly into a Horns set. On this play, they create very tight space for three Wizards defenders to navigate and Schroder slips straight to the rim for an uncontested layup. This looks very simple, but let’s take a look at some other wrinkles that are possible as a result of this basic SLOB play.

This is nearly the same SLOB look. Howard and Millsap demonstrate a traditional Horns formation and Schroder starts under the formation and comes to the top just as we saw on the previous play. But the wrinkle here is that Bazemore, as the wing on this play, instead of diving in between the bigs he veers slightly to the outside of Millsap on the near side of the in-bounder, Kyle Korver. A slight back screen from Millsap on the defender and perfect execution on the parts of Korver and Bazemore results in an uncontested layup.

This is the same SLOB formation although the Hawks are playing Thabo Sefolosha at power forward. He and Howard start with in the traditional Horns positioning. The Rockets would expect Malcolm Delaney and Tim Hardaway Jr. to roll and exchange positions to initiate the set.

Instead, Korver inbounds the ball straight to Thabo and cuts back door on his defender, Corey Brewer. Thabo delivers the ball to Korver, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela scramble as to provide some resistance at the rim. The result is a simple dump off pass to Howard for the easy dunk.

Here is another wrinkle in the half court. Millsap and Howard initiate Horns positioning but Hardaway sees a path to the rim knowing that he can get past Nick Young. Look how far Brandon Ingram has to get away from Thabo in the weak side corner as to cut off Hardaway’s path to the rim.

Thabo shot 35.8% on catch and shoot 3-point attempts last season which translates to an offensive rating of 107.4. So a catch and shoot 3-point attempt from the short corner is more than acceptable as a valuable shot attempt. Again on this play you can see the rebounding challenge for the defense.

Some teams initiate a slight majority of their Horns sets by tossing the ball to one of the bigs near the free throw line. The Hawks typically prioritize dribble and screen action to initiate the offense on these sets. But at times they initiate by tossing the ball to the big so I wanted to share an action of this type that the Hawks will sometimes leverage.

On this play, Schroder enters the ball to Howard then he and Millsap set downs screens for Bazemore and Hardaway. Bazemore gets a second screen in the DHO (dribble hand off) action with Howard but misses the open 18-footer.

This play came after a Hawks timeout so this was drawn up as an ATO (after time out) play. The Hawks were up 15 points at the time with 4:16 to play against a potent Rockets offense that was on a 6-0 run.

The quality of shot may not look very impressive. But a secondary objective on this play very well could have been to make Harden exert himself by working over consecutive screens. Harden never took a shot nor assisted on a field goal after this play.

There are other various actions the Hawks use at times in Horns sets. At the same time, this covers the most common primary and secondary actions they leverage on these sets.