It took exactly one game for the Bucks to find an unstoppable set for Damian Lillard.
Lillard was fantastic in his debut for the Bucks, scoring 39 points in a 118-117 win over the Sixers on Thursday night. Much of his success came in Horns sets — the Bucks averaged a ridiculous 1.86 points on the 14 times that they went into that alignment, per Cory Jez.
That may seem like a one-game fluke, but Lillard had a similar level of success in Horns sets last season with the Blazers. He was one of the guards in the league to use that alignment most frequently, scoring 1.50 points per possession in it as of Feb. 6, per Jez.
Come for @JezData, stay for the high horns action (🤷♂️ you’ll have to watch the video)
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) February 7, 2023
We already discussed one Horns option that the Bucks would probably use this season — Horns Rip DHO, a play stolen from the Nuggets that they went to out of timeouts during the preseason. This time, the Bucks took a page out of Lillard’s Blazers playbook, slamming the Sixers repeatedly with a set known as High Horns.
Explaining ‘High Horns’ and why it’s so effective for Damian Lillard
High Horns, Double High, and V are all different names for the same set. Popularized by the “Lob City” Clippers with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and De’Andre Jordan, it involves two screeners coming in tight in the following V formation:
This particular Horns alignment, where the screeners are setting those screens at the logo, was also featured heavily in last year’s Blazers’ offense. Lillard would use it repeatedly throughout games, once scoring six times in a row with it against the Bulls.
Lillard is so dangerous in the High Horns formation because it utilizes his speed, shooting, and decision-making.
By setting screens on both sides of Lillard’s defender, it gives him optionality in deciding which way to drive. Setting the screens so high also gives him a ton of room to get downhill and survey the floor, as he told CHGO’s Will Gottlieb when asked about why he was so successful in it.
“Really, [it’s] to give myself space,” Lillard explained. “I want to use my speed against the bigs. Try to turn the corner, and also take those guys out of the paint from meeting me at the rim.”
Lillard demonstrated this turn-the-corner concept against Tobias Harris, getting a big runway because of how high those screens were set and blowing right past him for an easy layup when Harris tried to switch onto him.
When defenders try to take that corner away, Lillard is also skilled enough to snake the play or take it back into the middle where he has a ton of room to operate.
Lillard is also talented enough to simply pull up from 3 out of the formation — he did that numerous times as well.
The High Horns alignment also gives Lillard a chance to survey the entire floor and see more easily where the open pass is, which he didn’t have to do as much because of how dominant he was scoring it.
“A lot of times, I’m coming downhill from halfcourt. I can see the guy pulling all the way over in the corner, so I can see where the play is,” Lillard told Gottlieb.
That High Horns set was so successful against the Sixers that with under three minutes left in a close game and a chance to draw up a play out of a replay stoppage, Adrian Griffin dialed it up again. Lillard drove left past Kelly Oubre, drawing an and-one to put the nail in the coffin for the Sixers.
Teams could not figure out a way to stop that formation last year, so it makes perfect sense that the Bucks brought it back. They will likely lean heavily on it throughout the year.
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