A beautiful ATO from the Nuggets gives them lots of options

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 25: Jamal Murray
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 25: Jamal Murray /

For the most part, after timeout (ATO) plays are more complex than regular halfcourt possessions because coaches can either draw up a specific set during the timeout or remind players of the nuances of the play they have in mind. Most teams have a rolodex of these plays to break out after timeouts or to begin halves or quarters or even run the same set to start a game for a few weeks before opposing scouts catch on.

For the Denver Nuggets, they’ve recently gone to a Horns set designed for Jamal Murray to open games.

I guarantee they have a better (read: shorter) name for it when Mike Malone calls it to begin games, but Denver has gone to Horns Flex STS Chicago quite a few times over the past month or so. The Nuggets line up in a traditional Horns setup with both big men at the elbows, wings in the corner and the point guard with the ball in the middle of the floor. The first look is to the wing in the right corner — after Murray enters the ball in to the big man at the right elbow, he runs off Nikola Jokic at the left elbow before setting a flex screen for the wing in that right corner:

This screen/cut combination is often referred to as “Flex” action and it works extremely well with Jokic at the elbow. (Even if Will Barton isn’t immediately open on that cut, Jokic possesses the passing ability to get the ball to him anyway). Denver’s scored the fourth-most total points off cuts in the league this season to help boost their ninth-ranked offense, per Synergy. Murray doesn’t even have to make contact on the screen to get Barton open in the above clip and Jokic finds him for the quick layup.

When that initial Flex cut isn’t open, that’s when Murray’s journey really gets started. The big man at the right elbow sets a down screen for Murray to complete the screen-the-screener (STS) action, but instead of Jokic hitting Murray for the 3-pointer, he dribbles over and hands the ball off to his point guard in what’s called “Chicago,” a down screen immediately followed by a handoff.

From there, Murray can play a quick pick-and-roll with Jokic or pull-up for the 3-pointer:

In the above clip, Murray doesn’t make contact on the screen — he doesn’t have to in order to slightly wrongfoot his defender. The threat of the screen is all that matters. Eric Bledsoe slows down just enough to create the opening for Murray to come off the Chicago action and get into the lane for a floater. Even when George Hill does a great job defending the down screen, the abundance of bodies makes it very difficult for him to stick with Murray throughout:

Hill does about as well as can be expected to read the play and lock Murray off from taking his natural route over the top of Paul Millsap’s down screen, but he’s able to change direction and still get the ball from Jokic for an open 3-pointer at the top of the key.

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There are plenty of other variations the Nuggets could run out of this set play. Jokic could fake the DHO and rumble down the lane himself, Millsap could slip the down screen for a cut to the rim or Murray could turn the corner on Millsap’s screen for a cut himself, opening the floor for Millsap and Jokic to play a big two-man game. Given the wide array of Jokic’s offensive skills and the ability of his teammates to play off his singular passing expertise, Horns Flex STS Chicago offers a lot of options and variations to keep the defense off guard.