Al Horford’s Shooting is the Key that Unlocks the Boston Celtics Offense

— November 14th 2017

Al Horford doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he makes the Celtics offense go round.

By Danny Emerman

We are in the age of big men shooting threes. Highlighted by DeMarcus Cousins’ eight three-point attempts per game after making just 11 three-pointers in the first five seasons of his careers. Among the 11 big men who attempt over three per game, the Celtics’ Al Horford is the leader in precision.

Horford has made 47.4 percent of his 3.5 three-point attempts per game, by far the highest mark among bigs. In fact, Horford is the 11th most accurate gunner in the league through his first 11 games.

He was en fuego before suffering a concussion, nailing eight straight threes across two games. In his last four games, he’s 9/13 (69 percent) from deep.

When Horford’s shot is falling and he is making quick decisions, the Celtics are impossible to defend. His jump shot opens up the rest of his game on offense.

In the pick and pop with Kyrie Irving, Horford’s triple threat is incredibly dangerous; he can knock down the jumper, attack a closeout with a pump fake and finish at the rim or kick out to a shooter in the corner.

Horford is great at using ball fakes to get engaging defenders out of position. If his defender simply leans in the wrong direction, Horford can put his head down and be at the rim in two dribbles. He can finish from a variety of angles at the basket with a treasure troves of hooks, floaters, bankers, and dunks.


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A hype Horford is just about the best thing ever

All he needs to get going is for one triple to go down. In the thrilling win against the Raptors, Horford made his only three-point attempt in the first half, but then tormented every clueless Toronto big with pass fakes and pump-and-drives for the rest of the game.

And when defenses switch, Irving can find Horford punishing mismatches.

Here, since Horford is such a threat from the corner (6-of-7 per Cleaning The Glass), Jonas Valanciunas over commits. Horford burns him with a baseline drive and jams on his face.

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Watch how Horford attacks Nikola Vucevic as he rotates after a Smart-Horford pick-and-roll. Vucevic recovers nicely and Horford is not quite fast enough to get all the way to the rim, so he digs into his deep arsenal of moves with the spin into the hook shot.

Even with as well as Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes have played, the Celtics are most dangerous with Horford at center. Their spacing on offense is unmatched by every team except the Warriors when Horford plays center. On defense, almost every position can switch on screens with Horford, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier or Marcus Morris. In the five lineups with Horford at center, Boston is +133.7 in over 200 minutes.

The debate over whether Horford is a “max player” is becoming more nuanced. As Horford continues to play at such a high level so consistently, more and more people realize that he’s not just a mere glue guy; he’s indispensable. He fills in all the cracks: if the Celtics need him to create on offense, he’ll create for himself and others. If they need him to rebound and defend and rebound, he’ll protect the rim and crash the glass down low. He’s a true basketball chameleon.

Not only is his versatility an asset from game-to-game across an 82-game season, they are crucial for roster building. When Danny Ainge signed Horford two summers ago, he had the foresight to realize there would inevitably be roster turnover. He knew that Horford was the type of player that can thrive on any team in any situation. He’s not the typical superstar-type player who you build a roster around, but his malleability maximizes the upside of any acquisition.

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