There are not a lot of good things that can be said about Al Horford and his year with the Sixers last season. He shot a career-low shooting percentage, career-high 3-pointers attempted, and at 34 years old is not getting any younger. Perhaps worst of all, Horford carries with him a remaining 3 years and $81 million on his contract.
While the fit and usage of Horford is no doubt the biggest reason for the terrible numbers, last season was about as disappointing of a season as possible for Big Al. There seems to be a disagreement in what Horford’s value to the rest of the league is but if the Sixers can find a legitimate suitor for the aging big-man, it is tough to imagine they don’t jump at the chance.
Despite all the frustration that has been felt and relief that getting rid of Horford will provide – it may be the right move to hang on to Horford for another year:
Little about the timeline and schedule for next year’s NBA season is set in stone. The NBA and NBAPA are currently in talks to finalize a schedule but it appears the league is heading for a December 22nd return with a 72 game season set to take place. There has also been discussion regarding series type matchups between 2 teams to limit travel and allow for more games to be played.
Regardless of what the season ends up looking like, it seems likely that there will not be as much time for rest in what is already grueling NBA season. Doc Rivers has already expressed his belief in load management and this was especially seen in his time with the Clippers last season.
Prior to the bubble, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard only played a total of 461 minutes together over the course of 18 games. The belief in keeping their most important players fresh and peaking at playoff time was on the core principles (and arguably the demise) of the Clippers team last season. Hopefully, measures are not taken to quite the extreme in Doc’s tenure with the Sixers, but it is clear that precautions will need to be made.
Backing Up Embiid
The first name that comes to mind when load management is brought up is Joel Embiid. “The Process” himself has flourished into every bit the star that the team hoped he would be and without him at his best, the Sixers have little shot at playoff success. There are few complaints that can be said about Embiid when he is on the court, however the same cannot always be said about his availability. After missing his first 2 seasons entirely, the 7-footer has yet to play more than 64 regular-season games and has battled through a concerning amount of injuries.
While faith should remain that Embiid’s fragility can be kept in check it is important to have a set plan and the right personnel to be able to give him a rest. Al Horford is currently the only other true big man under contract for next season. Being able to provide valuable back-up minutes to Embiid and fill in when he is not there is something that will make a major difference in the outcome of the Sixers season. Giving Embiid the proper rest time to preserve him for the playoffs is essential due to his importance to the team. With the condensed schedule, Embiid may be forced to miss a larger percentage of games than has been seen in years past which greatly increases Horford’s value to the Sixers.
While Al Horford certainly showed signs of decline in his game, the biggest reason for this was his usage on the team. With Embiid primarily operating out of the post and Simmons in need of space to drive, at times Horford looked like nothing more than a catch-and-shooter who ended up stuck in the corner for most possessions. The 4.2 three-pointers a game he put up was well above his career average of 1.5 attempts.
Prior to this season, Horford was regarded as one of the smartest big men in the league. He is a great passer for his size, has a smooth mid-range game, and a solid ability to score from the post.
Even last season Horford showed spurts of success. In a lineup with Horford, Simmons, and Tobias Harris, the team scored 4.4 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents along with an impressive 4.3 fewer turnovers than their opposition and a +9.7% total rebounding percentage. In contrast, the sluggish lineup of Simmons, Embiid, and Horford was outscored by 1.0 pts per 100 possessions by opponents and also threw up fewer shot attempts than other Sixer lineups and 0.9 less than their opposing matchup.
While the measly 7 points per game and -10.75 average +/- he produced in the playoffs is not encouraging, one must think his stock can only go up. Doc Rivers has a solid track record in getting the most out of big man- with names like Kevin Garnett and Deandre Jordan coming to mind. The majority of excitement falls on the possibilities of Rivers’ potential influence on Joel Embiid, but there should be enthusiasm for the necessary role that will be carved out for last year’s free-agent prize as well.
Doc has also tended to pair big men throughout his coaching career. Surrounding the primary star big (such as Kevin Garnett and Blake Griffin) with a complimentary big (like Glen “Big Baby” Davis/ Kendrick Perkins and DeAndre Jordan) has been a recipe that Doc found success with. This breathes potential life into any remaining hope of Horford being able to contribute any meaningful minutes. The clucky offensive system implemented by Brett Brown that resulted in disastrous floor spacing is about as low as the bar can get for Horford’s fit within an offense. With the bar this low it is tough to imagine finding a trade with any benefits beyond getting Al Horford and his max contract off the books.
If the Sixers find a reasonable trade that can benefit the team from an X’s and O’s standpoint and not just freeing up future cap space, they should not hesitate to pull the trigger. However with Horford’s career stock at an all-time low, the team may be better off keeping him around another year. Another season of Al Horford will not be fun to watch and keeping him on the roster certainly does not bring the team closer to their championship aspirations. However, eating up another year of his contract in the hopes of finding a better market and more beneficial trade next off-season may be a risk worth taking.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire