As the 2019-20 NBA season sits in limbo, now is as good a time as any to evaluate the progress of the Philadelphia 76ers’ latest addition in Al Horford.
The Philadephia 76ers have made a multitude of changes over the years. Once it was clear that former Sixers star Jimmy Butler was set to leave, the team set its sights on replacing him in a trade for former Miami Heat wing Josh Richardson. Then, to complete the starting lineup, they signed veteran forward Al Horford to a four year, $109 million contract.
Over the years, Horford was seen as a thorn in the Sixers’ side. In particular, his stint with the Boston Celtics made him public enemy No. 1. So, one can see how fans were shocked when Philly brought him in last summer.
It could be argued that Horford was one of the most effective players at guarding Joel Embiid. Throughout the 13 games they’ve played against each other, Horford bested Embiid in 10 of them. It seemed like Horford was Embiid’s kryptonite. It seemed fairly reasonable to assume that bringing Horford in would benefit Embiid, as a result.
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On top of that, the 76ers had a problem with depth at the center position. While Horford would likely play the four alongside Embiid, the idea of Horford getting minutes at the five seemed intriguing. In particular, the most obvious move would have been for head coach Brett Brown to stagger the duo’s minutes together. On top of that, Horford could start at center whenever Embiid needed to sit out for load management reasons.
As such, the move to sign Horford seemed like a smart one. In theory, Horford was going to be the insurance policy the Sixers needed in the event Embiid went down. Now, has it worked out completely? Not yet. The starting lineup seems a bit clunky and could use some relief for spacing purposes. But, that’s not to say Horford can’t be effectively used.
Horford has been a bit of a letdown on offense. Many were worried that Horford’s fit at the four didn’t make much sense, as most of the starters are not proficient shooters. Horford, for instance, is taking a career-high 4.4 threes per game this season. This is likely because Ben Simmons draws so much attention driving in that he can simply kick it out to Horford for a quick three. But, Horford is only hitting an average of 1.5 threes per game, or 33.7 percent.
That said, Horford has had a decent year, for his standards, averaging 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. The biggest issue is that he’s not hitting his shots at an efficient rate. This season, Al Horford is shooting 44.2 percent from the field, which is a 9.3 percent drop from the season before. It simply comes down to the fact that Horford is taking the same amount of shots but hitting them at a less-efficient rate.
On the other hand, Al Horford has not had as huge of a drop on defense. Throughout the season, he has averaged 0.9 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. On top of that, he’s netting a 1.1 defensive box plus/minus, which is a 0.8 drop from last year. In terms of his play, Horford has certainly been solid on defense.
But, it can be argued that this lineup just needs a bit of time to gel to truly succeed. This lineup has not been able to get much playing time together due to injuries to Simmons and Embiid. As such, the starters have not gotten ample time to get accustomed to one another. It may take the start of next season to get them fully acclimated with one another’s style of play. It may even take a change in scheme, too.
That said, Al Horford could still be an important piece of this roster. The new situation has made it more important for him to improve his shot efficiency, particularly from beyond the arc. On defense, he hasn’t missed much of a step, and could very well improve next season. As such, I would give Al Horford’s first year with the Philadelphia 76ers a grade of a C. While he has not been terrible, he could most certainly do better.