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Hawks unveil a new trick against Indiana

A new, beautiful play from Coach Bud.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks broke out a new play (at least, as far as I can tell) to start the game against Indiana on Wednesday night, combining many of the NBA’s favorite motifs into the same action. This one is called “Horns Spain” and has a lot of moving parts, but it essentially flows from a standard Horns formation into a Spain pick-and-roll, though it doesn’t quite come off as planned for the Hawks. But first, a review of what those two things mean, before we get into the way Atlanta put them together.

Horns is popular throughout the league and lower levels of the sport. Practically every team in the NBA runs some Horns sets, as it offers quite a bit of flexibility out of the same initial action. It starts with the ball (usually in the point guard’s hands) in the middle of the floor, two players (usually big men) at the elbows, and the last two in opposite corners (usually wings). This is how the Hawks are set up as well, with John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon manning the elbows:

From here, the point guard will enter the ball in to one of the bigs at the elbow, then the play can deviate into any number of variations. Horns has a lot of versatility, which is why it’s used at all levels of basketball to create openings. Watch below for a couple of examples of what NBA teams are running out of Horns:

In the first clip, the Pacers faked “Chicago” action, in which point guard Darren Collison would set a down screen for Bojan Bogdanovic, who would come around to get a hand off at the elbow. Collison, then took the handoff himself, received a ball screen from Myles Turner, and found Turner on the pop for a midrange jumper.

In the second clip, the Bucks ran something entirely different: Jason Terry cut to the opposite side of the ball, then wheeled around to set a flex screen for Sterling Brown, then popped back up behind a Thon Maker down screen to get open in what’s referred to as “screen the screener” action. Horns offers this sort of flexibility to offenses—there are teams in college and high school whose base offense is entirely based upon Horns.

Spain pick-and-roll has spread through the NBA like wildfire after the Spanish national team ran it in the European championship final against Lithuania (at least, that’s the first time I remember it being popularized). The action itself is simple but requires good communication defensively to cover all the options.

In a Spain pick-and-roll, the ball handler and screener run a traditional pick-and-roll, usually at the top of the key, but this variation includes a third offensive player, who sets a back screen on the screener’s defender before popping out to the three-point line to space the floor. Watch below how the New Orleans Pelicans tortured Milwaukee with Spain pick-and-roll on five possessions in a four-minute span in a recent game:

The Hawks put these two together in Horns Spain (creative name, huh?):

It’s not perfectly executed, but the outline of the play is there: Dennis Schröder enters the ball to the elbow and cuts through, the ball is reversed to Collins at the right elbow, and Kent Bazemore comes up to get the handoff. This is a normal action in Horns, but what comes next is new—instead of clearing out to the corner, Schröder moves to the free-throw line to set a screen on Collins’ defender, Thaddeus Young. He doesn’t connect on the screen as both Young and Victor Oladipo follow Bazemore, but after popping out to the three-point line, Schröder finds himself wide open, as Cory Joseph was forced to help on Collins’ roll into the paint. Schröder missed on both the screen and the three-pointer, but the design of this one is beautiful. Indiana’s defense is flying around the entire time, trying to cover the various options and figure out exactly what the Hawks are doing, and in doing so give up an open three.

From Atlanta’s perspective, perhaps a slight change in personnel would make this play better; throwing Taurean Prince in Schröder’s spot would put more shooting in that spot. Still, given the relative success of this set play, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks run it more often this season and in the future.