When Elton Brand made Al Horford one of the highest-paid Sixers of all time this past offseason, it was met with quite a bit of head-scratching and confusion. After 60+ plus games of lackluster performances and multiple trips to the bench, it’s looking like that $109 million contract may finally become of use.
The Sixers were already dealt a serious injury blow earlier in the week, with 2x All-Star point guard Ben Simmons partially dislocating his knee cap. It was announced Simmons would need to undergo a surgery procedure outside of the Orlando bubble, all but ending his season barring a miraculous recovery.
Horford was thrust back into the starting lineup following the Simmons news, so he was already going to be called upon a bit more moving forward. The veteran big actually had one of his better performances in recent memory during his first game starting since before the bubble, recording 21 points and 9 rebounds in a win over the Orlando Magic.
While that was a nice “first game back” for the former Celtic, Brett Brown and the Sixers are going to need a whole lot more from him over the coming days.
Just moments into the team’s matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, Joel Embiid went down with a reported ankle injury. As of right now, it’s unclear how serious the ailment is, however, it’s likely fair to assume at a minimum he’ll miss a handful of games. Joel Embiid went straight to the locker room following an awkward landing on his left leg, however, he did end up returning to the bench later in the game, appearing to be in good spirits.
Even if Embiid is labeled “healthy” by tomorrow morning, he’ll still likely not be at 100%. Ankle injuries can be a nagging pain for weeks, especially for someone at JoJo’s height and weight. Expecting him to log 35+ minutes a night just a few days removed from a lower leg injury seems a tad unreasonable.
Horford has to be the next man up
With both Simmons and Embiid now out for the foreseeable future, the pressure now falls on Horford to be the leader moving forward. While he’s not as talented of a scorer as Tobias Harris or Josh Richardson, Horford needs to act as the glue that holds this team together, both offensively and defensively.
Horford played extremely well for Boston and Atlanta earlier in his career, operating as the “savvy veteran” center who made the right plays at the right time. He excelled in the pick and roll game, shot well from the mid-range, and played extremely high-level defense. While Horford is undoubtedly not the same player he was back then anymore, if there was ever a time for him to dig deep for some of that old ability, it was now.
When the Sixers coughed up $100+ million for Horford over the summer, many people viewed it as “expensive insurance for an expensive car”. Embiid was the shiny new Lamborghini, and Horford was the necessary pricy car insurance that went with it. Embiid has struggled with injuries in the past, and the team has never had the depth behind him to adequately replace his production. With Horford, that issue was meant to vanish.
Horford has yet to really live up to that “expensive insurance” title, as he’s really struggled for Philadelphia, regardless of if Embiid is on the court or not. However, if there was ever a time for him to finally come into his own and lead this team alongside Harris and Richardson, now would be it.
The Sixers next matchup will take place against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday afternoon (4 PM ET). Expect Horford to be involved early and often, as Philadelphia attempts to continue to climb up the eastern conference standings.
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