Al Horford Must Be Aggressive For Boston Celtics

Mar 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) goes to the basket against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Hawks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) goes to the basket against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Hawks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics need Horford to aggressive to get the most out of him

The newest member of the Boston Celtics, Al Horford, is considered one of the premier big men in the game. A four-time NBA All-Star, Horford has a wealth of experience – playing in over 650 career games, regular season and postseason combined. He played with several All-Star caliber players during his time in Atlanta, which allowed him to defer to his teammates, at times, on offense. That won’t be an option in Boston.

For the first five seasons of Horford’s career, he played alongside Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Johnson was the clear-cut number one in terms of scoring options, and Smith never found a shot that he didn’t like to take. That was a perfect situation for Horford, who was selected with the third overall pick, because it allowed him to ease into the NBA. He didn’t have to come in right away and take control of a team, he could complement Johnson and Smith.

Horford did just that. During his first four seasons, Horford never finished higher than third on the team in shots per game, as he took a backseat to Johnson and Smith. However, things changed when the Hawks traded Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2012. Though Smith was still on the roster, this was Horford’s opportunity to shoulder more of the offensive responsibility, and he took full advantage of it.

In the first season without Johnson, Horford was second to only Smith in both points (17.4) and field goal attempts per game (14.3), both were career-highs. Despite the increase in offensive opportunities, he still managed to make more than 50 percent of his shots. The following season Smith signed elsewhere, and despite the addition of Paul Millsap, it felt like this was going to be Horford’s team.

He appeared headed for the best season of his career, until a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the remainder of the season after just 29 games. That really opened the door for guys like Millsap and Jeff Teague to step up offensively, which they did. Ever since then, it has felt like Horford has taken a back seat to the two of them.

That’s not going to be an option in Boston, though. When Horford takes the floor for the first time as a Celtic this fall, he will be the focal point of the offense, alongside Isaiah Thomas. Horford will be featured heavily in both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop. While Thomas should still be Boston’s number one scoring option, Horford is a very close second. Numerous scoring opportunities will exist, and that’s where the Celtics hope for the Horford of a few seasons ago.

Last season, Avery Bradley was second on the Celtics with 13.4 shots per game. By that metric, Horford should be taking somewhere around 13-15 shots per game this upcoming season. Not only does Boston need Horford to be aggressive, they need him to be consistent.

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We saw it especially during the postseason last year, Horford would bounce back and forth between star and role player. Though it’s a small sample size, in Atlanta’s four playoff wins, Horford was second on the team in shots per game. In their six losses, he was fourth. Atlanta was a different team when Horford was looking for his offense. Whether he’s out near the perimeter or catching the ball near the basket, Horford needs to look to score in Boston.

Part of that responsibility will fall to Brad Stevens and the coaching staff as well. Stevens has never had a big man the caliber of Horford in his three seasons as Boston’s head coach. His offensive strategy has been centered around his backcourt. Now, he’ll need to incorporate Horford into the gameplan.

That should be relatively easy because the style of offense Boston runs suits Horford and his skill set perfectly. However, there will be times where Stevens will need to draw up plays specifically to get Horford a shot.

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Boston may be Thomas’ team – and it still can be – but Horford needs to come in and be a leader. As a 10-year-veteran on a young team, he can no longer afford to take a backseat to his teammates. The Celtics aren’t paying him for that.