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Denver Nuggets Set of the Week: "Horns Lift"

The set of the week is a weekly series that diagrams and explains one of the best Denver Nuggets offensive plays, sets, or actions. This week's set is called Horns Lift.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first edition of set of the week, where we will take a look at the Denver Nuggets offensive sets and examine why they are effective. With this current Nuggets roster spacing can be at a premium so coaching may need to be more creative to create spacing. Creating space can be done by two different things, first and the most obvious is to have great shooters although that is easier said than done. Second, creating formations and sets to take advantage of the strengths you have while maintaining good floor spacing to allow for easier scoring opportunities. Mike Malone does a great job creating spacing with this weeks set of the week, Horns Lift.

Let's start with the basics, the Horns formation. Horns is an extremely common set in today's NBA and virtually every NBA team runs this action and the reasons are due to great spacing and the multitude of options out of it. If you wish to get familiar with the Horns Series, I created an NBA Horns Playbook video that may be useful:

The Horns formation is great because it has a lead guard, two bigs at the elbows and the guards in the deep corner that is an incredibly deficient shot in today's NBA. Here is the Nuggets Horns formation in this set:

Horns Formation

In my opinion, this set if the most effective when Danilo Gallinari is playing the lead/point guard position and Kenneth Faried is the primary ballscreener at the elbow.  Gallinari can create his own shot as well as be a threat to attack the rim, forcing the defense to collapse and help in the paint leaving others open.

Going through this set the lead guard that attacks initially has 3 options that are all based on reading what the defense does and making the correct play. So much of the Pick & Roll and today's NBA is based on reads that a player like Gallinari is well suited for a set like this in addition to his scoring ability.

The first read is what is the primary ballscreen defender doing, is he blitzing? Hard Hedge? Soft Hedge? Sticking with his man? Depending on how he handles the ballscreen defense, it could be any one of these options but majority of teams defend Horns sets with a soft hedge where the defender drops off a bit to allow the guard to recover off of the ballscreen. You can see in the picture below that Montrezl Harrell really is in horrible defensive stance and concerned with his man rolling to the rim, so Gallo has a direct line to the rim:

Horns Lift Option 1

Note: If Harden or ballside defender takes one or two steps toward the ball, Gallinari would kick to ballside corner for an open corner 3.

After reading the initial Pick & Roll defense, the reads become a little easier and what the ballhandler's decision has to be. Attacking off the Pick & Roll has to be quick at first looking for that first option of a layup (or Roll Man if the big cuts off the lead guard), but then slower to be able to see what the weakside defenders are reacting toward. Reading the two weakside defenders will dictate what the lead guard (Gallinari) will do:


If the opposite elbow defender (Capela below) tags the roll man, or helps in to prevent a layup, then the "Lift" man will be open at the top of the key for an open shot, drive to the rim or reversal followed into a ballscreen on the wing. When the defense helps in, or stunts and recovers back to their man, this ballscreen on the reversal will usually be with a bad hedge that allows the guard to attack easier which is great for a young attacking player like Mudiay.

Horns Lift Option 2

The last read is if the low man, in this case Patrick Beverly, overhelps when tagging the roll man and gets sucked in too far leaving his man open. Beverly was guarding Mudiay who is not a huge threat shooting the ball, but this creates space and a long closeout to the wing for Beverly. Mudiay is an extremely talented athlete and attacks well, not to mention his great floor vision and creating this space is great for his skill set.

Horns Lift Option 3

I hope you guys enjoyed this breakdown and were able to grasp a better understanding of why this set has been effective for the Nuggets. I really like what Malone is doing in trying to create spacing and opportunities to score within the half court offense, as well as allowing younger players like Mudiay easier opportunities to score. I expect the Nuggets to run this a lot throughout the course of the season, as well as some counters to always keep the defense guessing.