Raptors Playbook: Horns Double
Over at the Raptors Playbook YouTube channel (@RaptorsPlaybook on Twitter), I am breaking down the X’s & O’s of the Toronto Raptors. This week, we’ll focus on Horns Double – a tandem ball screen that is often preceded by a Zipper cut. Watch the video embedded below alongside the summary written, and remember to follow and subscribe to never miss out on a video.
For those who cannot read lips and interpret the signal Dwane Casey repeatedly calls out in the video, this play comes out of Horns formation. The Toronto Raptors call for this play is Horns Double because both of the big men situated at the elbows (a defining characteristic of Horns formation) are used as a double ball screen by the ball handler.
Before that point comes, the ball handler often makes a Zipper cut from the baseline to the perimeter. To ensure that the eventual ball handler is freed up from their defender, they utilize a down screen from one of the big men situated at the free throw line. As can be seen starting at 0:13, the prospective ball handler will pivot back to the middle of the floor upon receiving this entry pass from the wing.
Both big men situated near either end of the free throw will then turn in the same direction (and somewhat illegally join arms) to set a double screen, or tandem ball screen, for the ball handler. One of the screeners will dive to the rim, putting pressure on the lone weak side defender to negotiate positioning between a corner shooter and a rolling big man, while the other pops, ensuring that the ball handler has a free pathway to the rim against the backpedalling screen defender.
As with many pick and roll scenarios, this action creates a pick-your-poison scenario for the defense when executed properly. Most important among these is that it forces the defense to almost always have a slow defender momentarily guard the ball handler before any play-defining decision is to be made. This gives the Raptors’ guards ample time to survey the floor while they probe going towards the paint.
Included within the video compilation are instances when the Raptors opted against using a Zipper cut and decided to have the ball handler walk the ball up the court and simply use the double screen. The slight differences both have merits, as the Zipper cut can be argued as overcomplicating a simple action and wasting precious moments on an action that is not going to directly produce any scoring opportunities. In contrast to that line of thinking is that the Zipper cut forces the eventual on-ball defender to move up the floor before being pushed back down and through a second set of screens. The differences are as minute of a detail that can happen in an NBA set play, but it seems fitting given what this series is about.