When Al Horford decided to sign with the Celtics this summer, it was an encouraging moment for the franchise. Not only did I expect Al to instantly improve the team, but he was the first major free agent the Celtics were able to land since The Big 3 were broken up. It seemed like they were primed to make a run at the 2 seed in the East, and potential even contend with Cleveland for a spot in the finals.
From afar, Horford’s season seems fairly mediocre to say the least. If you’re just checking box scores every game, you probably think Horford isn’t living up to his contract, and rightfully so. A big man getting paid $27 million a year to score 14 points and grab 7 rebounds, it’s hard to get behind that. But if you’ve sat back and watched the Celtics play day-in and day-out, you realize just how much better he has made this team.
First of all, Horford is really a stretch-four who has to primarily play center on a team who’s formidable backup at that position is Kelly Olynyk. Because of this, Al has played the role of the primary rim protector, and he’s done a good job.
Horford is one of the smartest big men in the league. This season he averaged a career high in assists-per-game, and when u watch the Celtics play you realize just how integral that part of his game is to their team.
When you watched the Celtics play last season with Jared Sullinger as their center, he stood out like a sore thumb. They needed a big man who could stretch the floor and clear the lane for Isaiah. In terms of that demand, Horford has certainly fulfilled his expectations.
Yes, Horford’s stats are not great. Yes, he only shot 47% from the floor, and at times during the regular season he did struggle with his overall offensive efficiency. But it is hard to grasp how much he helps this team on both ends of the floor, especially if you’re looking at numbers alone and not watching the team play nightly.
The best way to properly evaluate Horford’s impact is to look at both the Celtics and Hawks over the last two seasons. In 2015-16, the Celtics, with Sullinger, and the Hawks, with Horford, won the same amount of regular season games. They faced each other in the first round of the playoffs and the Hawks won the series in 6.
Now we fast-forward one year. The Celtics, now with Al as their center, and the Hawks, who had signed Dwight Howard in the offseason, are on two opposite sides of the spectrum. One team is the number one seed in the East and is looking to make the finals, and the other went out quietly in the first round. I’ll let you guess which team has Horford.
All season, when people bashed Al and his contract, it was puzzling. I understand that for some it’s hard to get past the fact he’s getting paid a max deal, but in a market that was largely inflated, something tells me Horford’s contract won’t look as bad in the grand scheme of things.
And now, the Celtics are playing games in May, and Al Horford is recording near triple-doubles in the conference semifinals.
If you can’t accept the fact that a player getting paid the max will not go for 25 points a night, then you won’t like Horford, or the wins he’s brought to the Celtics all season.