Boston Celtics Free Agent Target: Al Horford

The Celtics went hard after Al Horford at the trade deadline this season, and Danny Ainge will be trying hard to pry him away from Atlanta in free agency this upcoming off-season

I recently went over why Hassan Whiteside would be a great fit with the Boston Celtics. A more obvious free agent target for Boston this off-season is Al Horford. It’s no secret that Horford was one of the many players Danny Ainge was trying to trade for at the deadline this season, however, the Atlanta Hawks decided they wanted to keep their core together for at least the rest of the year. It will now be Ainge’s job to try to sway Horford away from the only place he has ever played in during his NBA career.

Horford has a history of injuries, playing in a combined 40 games during the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. Those days seem to be behind him though as he appeared in 76 games for the Hawks last season and all 63 games this season. When healthy, Horford is one of the best big men in the league, and being healthy over the past two seasons will only draw more interest towards him from teams.

The four-time all-star will be looking to cash in on the increased cap room this off-season, most likely commanding a max contract. Horford is a one of the best players in the league, despite flying under the radar. He has been a cornerstone piece of the Hawks’ franchise since they drafted him, and they’ll do anything they can not to lose him.

Horford is one of the rare big men who has the ability to score from anywhere on the court and provide solid defense. His 101 defensive rating this season, according to Basketball Reference, and 103 career defensive rating is evidence to this. At 6’10”, with long arms, it’s not a surprise that he’s averaging 1.6 blocks per game this season. He would provide the Celtics with a down low threat defensively, while also being quick enough on his feet to guard a stretch four. He doesn’t have the same defensive ability as Hassan Whiteside, but no one does, but Horford’s offense makes him a more enticing free agent.

Horford has recently added a three-point shot to his arsenal this season, attempting a career-high three per game. He has already attempted 186 three-pointers this season, 150 more than his previous career-high of 36 last season. His ability to now shoot the long ball only adds to how big of a threat he is on offense. Horford is someone who can score outside, mid-range, or inside.

29.5 percent of his shots come from inside three feet, while 24.4 percent are from 16 to 23 feet, and 23 percent of his shot attempts are threes. It’s clear that he’s not afraid to shoot it from anywhere, which brings a lot of attention from defenses and will open up more open shots for Boston.

Horford won’t strike fear into opponents when lining up for a three like Kelly Olynyk does, however, his 33.9 three-point percentage will keep teams honest and forces them to guard him. He also shoots 55.2 percent from inside the arc, showing off his mid-range and post-up game. From the free-throw line, Horford shoots a remarkable 80.6 percent as well, making him one of the best free-throw shooting big men in the league.

Horford is a better version of Jared Sullinger, in a way, on offense. He is someone who isn’t afraid to shoot it but prefers to go inside and rough it with the big boys down low. Brad Stevens has never had a big man with Horford’s talent on offense, and the ways he could use him would be endless.

Horford’s numbers have declined a little over the past two seasons, but he is still playing at an all-star level, making the all-star game the past two seasons. He’s still averaging 15.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, down from his double-double averages in his career, but still very solid.

He will be 30 by the time free agency comes around, and his injury history is somewhat of a concern, however, there’s a reason Ainge was going hard after him this season. Offensively, he provides a lot of options for the Celtics, not only someone who can go inside, but also a threat to hit a shot from anywhere and provides a great pick-and-roll player for a team lacking one.

Trading for Horford was something I was not for because of his current contract situation and the fact that the Celtics would have had to give up a lot. But, if the Celtics were to sway him away from Atlanta, it would be the star they have been looking for to compliment Isaiah Thomas.

Swaying him away from the only place he has called home during his time in the NBA will be hard, but if anyone can do it it’s Danny Ainge. Horford isn’t a superstar, or someone who will lead a team to a Finals appearance by himself, although he is more than capable of being one of the final missing puzzle pieces for the Celtics.