Advanced Horns Action

By Cody Toppert


I hope this note finds you well and that your team is experiencing much success on the court.  Below is a newsletter, the first of many in which myself and other members of our staff at ELEV|8 will cover a plethora of topics from game observations, to skill development, to scouting, to offense, defense and more.  Hopefully you will find some value in the topics discussed and if you have any feedback or suggestions please don’t hesitate to contact me, or @Topp33 on twitter and Instagram, I love to chop up hoops whenever possible.  Once again I hope you enjoy and best of luck the rest of the way!

Kind Regards,

Cody Toppert
Director of Basketball Development ELEV|8 GBB

Offensive Trends and Teaching Methods

One of the most popular offensive looks in today’s game is Horns.  Great benefit can be found from pulling the 4 and 5 to the elbows and the options out of this look are seemingly limitless.  From my time corresponding with coaches at all levels there is always a divide between guys who prefer sets and guys who prefer motion. When sets break down, what are your principles?  The way I see it, an offense is designed to get an open shot for a player in a position where that player can be successful.  The great thing about sets is that they allow you (the coach) to control which player gets the ball and potentially the majority of the shots.  What I love about Horns action and the progressions on which I like to teach Horns, is that it provides the Point Guard with a toolbox to pull from and incorporates reads, not necessarily “sets” in the classical way.  On the flip side, when you really need to get the ball to the post or you need that three, then you can call a specific action and hopefully get that desired result.

There are 3 basic ways to run Horns.  Each of these 3 ways need barely a call and the remaining 4 players can play off the action to make their reads.

  • The first is Horns Up, your basic double high ball screen (we all know this so not much further required here). Get your principles and go.  Who pops? Who rolls? What is your second side philosophy? What are your spacing philosophies (big to the duck in area, or big to the slot with corner and wing filled).  Horns side can make this consecutive high ball screens.  Horns twist can make this a wiper screen look.


Common Horns Up to 2nd Side action
  • The second option is dribble handoff entry, or what I call Horns GO.  In this action, the Point can dribble off the high screen and DHO to the corner guard or he can dribble straight to the handoff.  From there the reads are on, the strong side big can flip and set a PNR, or he can roll off the initial screen.  The weak side big can sprint to set a PNR after the DHO (consecutive action emphasis) or he can look to set a wide pin down for the weak side corner guard.  The beauty of teaching progression from a specific look to granting the freedom to make the reads allows the coach to give up the reigns and take them back when needed.  Looking for the corner guard to turn the corner and attack? DHO and send the weakside big to follow with a PNR.  Looking for the hot shooter? DHO into a wide pin.  Looking to clear out the D for an elbow ISO for the big? Curl the wide pin down and pop the big back to the elbow.  Want to look to get that lay up again? Hit the elbow big after the wide pin curl and chase a handoff.  The big can hand it off or fake and attack.  The possibilities are endless.


Two Horns Go options: A stagger for a shooting wing and a side P/R for a guard
  • The third option on Horns is Elbow action (which includes many subsequent looks) and involves working through the bigs.  Once the point hits the elbow there are 4 subsequent reads that can ensue.  The teaching can, again, make these reads automatic, almost a Princeton type feel where one read has a chain reaction of reads that hopefully leads to an open look at the basket.
  • Strong – If the point hits the elbow man, chases his pass and sprints over the top Strong side man, proceeding to “split” the strong side corner guard.  From here again with the reads.
    • The corner man can curl the split.  And the point can pop back initiating a Side PNR or DHO.  Meanwhile on the weak side if the big stays high the guard stays low and as the Side PNR takes place, the big can pin down for the guard (weak side action).  If the big goes low the and guard goes high, as the Side PNR takes place the big can look to set a fade screen for the guard (common Wizards action).
    • The corner guard man can use the screen and initiate a DHO with the elbow big.  Once again on the weak side we have one low and one high and action progresses towards a pin down or a fade screen.


Elbow Strong Side Split action out of a Horns set
  • Weak – If the point hits the elbow and sprints over the top of the weak side big, then Weak side action is initiated.  The weak side big follows the point to set a double stagger for the weak side guard.  And here we go again with the reads.  The big man that has the ball controls the game, he can hit the shooter or DHO with the shooter coming off the stagger.  If this is not open, then Pop action comes next.  The guard who is not open off the stagger curls through and the weak side big continues to screen the point guard.  The point can then use the screen and catch for a shot or look to go into Step Up PNR action with the big to the baseline.  If the big at the elbow that received the initial pass does not like the available reads there is, of course, always DHO action with the strong side corner guard.  Once again, the possibilities are endless.


Elbow Weak Side Split action out of a Horns set
  • Flex Action – Flex Action is divided two ways and the look is initiated by the point hitting the elbow man and cutting down the middle in between the two elbow bigs.  After the cut, the point has only two options, proceed to the weak side or proceed to the strong side.
    • Flex Strong – If the point cuts middle and then proceeds to the strong side he initiates Strong side Flex which means he will set a strong side flex screen for the strong side corner guard.  The elbow big can then look to hit the guard off of the flex cut or immediately go DHO with point.  As the 1-4 DHO takes place the weak side big can then pin down for the weak side guard.  This is not continuity and after the look breaks down spacing and cutting principles take over as well as end of shot clock action.
    • Flex Weak – If the point cuts middle and then proceeds to the weak side then traditional flex action is initiated.  Your standard continuity can ensue, weak side flex cut from corner guard followed by down screen from weak side elbow man.


 Elbow Flex action out of a Horns set – Weak Flex (left) and Strong Flex (right)

The final of the general and basic options from Horns that we love is the zipper option.  This loop can go to an elbow series, to an Iverson series or to a baseline series.  The key initiator is the dribble entry which activates the zipper action.  The point guard dribbles to the wing and the strong side elbow big sets the narrow pin down for the corner guard who “zippers” up to receive the pass.

  • Zipper Elbow – If the elbow series is in play (for us this is the automatic and the Iverson, baseline series are ATO or special situations) then on the pass (from the PG to the guard who zippered up) the weak side elbow big sets a wide pin down for the weak side corner guard.  From here your principles can determine the options.
    • Off the wide pin the guard can curl to the elbow for the jumper, if the shot is not there, step up screen action or two man game principles of your choice are available.
    • Off the wide pin we prefer the corner guard to curl through.  The big will then pop directly back to the ball and the guard will hit the big at the elbow and chase his pass.  This is a great way to get a cleared side and look for a hand off to get a strong-body guard going down hill.  If two defenders go with the handoff action, the elbow big can fake it and turn back to the middle for a finish.
    • If the handoff and the fake handoff are not available the man who originally curled the wide pin is completing the circle and the elbow man with the ball will fakehandoff at the elbow of reception and then DHO at the weak side elbow with the wide pin curl man.


Dribbling out the wing sets up Zipper action, which can set up a 2-man game opportunity
  • If the Iverson series is in play (a look that is constantly being recreated at the college and grassroots levels) then the guard zippers up and the Iverson options ensue.
    • PG Iverson action is where the PG will loop over the elbow screens from the big and the weak side guard will mirror on the baseline.
    • SG Iverson action is the opposite of PG Iverson action; in this case we want our SG to loop over the elbow screens from the bigs.
    • The finishing options we look at include a double high ball screen (first guy rolls, second guy pops), GO action (big to big screen into Side PNR), GET action (same side single Side PNR, weak side big can space, duck in or set an away screen).
    • We also like to look at what we refer to as KD action, this would be using the loop screens and Iverson cutting over the top but instead of receiving on the wing, the look is to loop towards the basket on the second elbow screen.  From here the elbow big will follow back with a pin down and KD action is the look over the top but more likely to the SG after the ensuing pin down.


Iverson set, with a big-big cross screen to Side PNR, out of a Horns look
  • If the baseline series is initiated then the PG will dribble entry to the wing and hit the guard on the zipper cut.
    • From there the strong side big will be at the block, following the zipper action.  He will set the first baseline screen on the PG.
    • The weak side corner man will sprint to the middle of the lane to set the second baseline screen on the PG and the weak side elbow big will loop to set the third and final baseline screen for the PG.
    • More often than not the PG uses the triple baseline stagger and gets a good look or we can flow into GO or GET action, but in reality, this look is almost a flow into a FLOPPY.  The PG can use the first baseline screen to enter the lane and then exit same side, after setting the second screen the other guard receives a pin down from the initial baseline screening guard.  Other FLOPPY principles can then be in play (chest, drop, GO or GET action).


 Point Guard using the baseline triple screen

What I love about these looks is that we have merely scratched the surface and these are ones that can pretty much be reads.  From there we can look at elevator action, dive action, rub action, screen the screener action, back screen action, up screen to ball screen action, hawk cuts, UCLA cuts, double curls, pinch post reads and more.  So now we have end of quarter, end of game and ATO opportunities to get just the look we want in a situation that calls for it.  The beauty of having run horns on a regular basis during the flow of the game is that the opposition has no idea that one of our “specials” is coming and hopefully we’ll execute in the clutch.  The links below are some clips that I have complied that show some of my favorite actions out of Horns, a set (or motion) that I feel can be among the deadliest in the game.


Teaching in 3’s

When it comes to Horns and the many reads, I like to teach in 3’s. What I mean by this is taking reads from the same subset and reviewing them in two-drill series, followed by live 3-on-3 play.  When breaking these reads down into drills I like to start with guard and big breakdowns and then progress to combo action prior to 3-on-3.  Game read reps in a skill development atmosphere can greatly elevate a player’s confidence in seeing a successful result out of the action before even adding the defense.  At the link below you will see how I do a Game Rep guard break down.  This series includes a combination of 2-ball handling and a variety of in-game reads that will progress to guard/big combo drills followed by 3-on-3 and eventually 5-on-5.  In this series you will find some horns action as well as some 40 series and drag screen action we have put in on our nationally (4th) ranked prep school squad.  We have several routines that get the guys game shots from game spots at game speed. What separates these drills are the fact they incorporate game reads and game decisions.  We also use similar concepts and actions when working with our Professional Players (NBA Vets, Pre Draft participants and International) as well.



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Cody Toppert is a former standout player at Cornell University, who played 8 years professionally and now serves as Assistant Coach/Offensive Coordinator for the RGV Vipers, NBA D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets. The Vipers are D-League leaders in many offensive categories, including 113.7 Offensive Rating and 54.5 eFG%.

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