Looking into how Al Horford’s presence can change Isaiah Thomas’ game on the Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas has proven that he is willing and capable of adapting in order to make sure the Boston Celtics function at the highest level possible. Last season, he focused on his distribution and pushing the pace and that was the key to having a successful offense despite their poor shooting.
Now, the Celtics have added their most established player and a front court option that can completely transform what their offense is capable of. Aggresiveness will always be key to Thomas’ game with the Celtics, but Al Horford‘s presence alone can change the kind of opportunities that will be available to him.
The biggest way that Horford should be able to impact Thomas is giving him another weapon. Thomas became the assist leader on the Celtics with 6.4 per game last season and Horford could cause those numbers to take another huge jump.
Horford immediately becomes Thomas’ most trusted teammate. The Celtics lack players that can be completely trusted to hit even the most wide open shots. With Horford, that will not be a concern, and he expands far beyond that. Because of the poor offensive options around him, Thomas has to been burdened with creating the best possible opportunities for his teammates. Horford, on the other hand, can flip that. Horford will be putting Thomas in a much better situation as a distributor and will take much of the play making responsibility out of his hands.
Horford gives Thomas another go to scorer on the starting unit, and it cannot be understated how valuable that will be to the offense. That is not, however, the only way Horford will be impacting Thomas’ approach.
Horford gives Thomas his first starting power forward/ center that can actually provide floor spacing. Jared Sullinger never got the respect from the defense and that clogged up the paint far too often. Defenses knew that there were few players they had to respect from beyond the arc and that allowed them to put all their defensive focus in the paint, and that is still where Thomas was at his best.
Last season, Thomas was tied for first in the league in drives to the rim. He managed to use his shorter height as an advantage, making it much more difficult for defenders to know what kind of angles needed to be taken in order to contest his shot. Thomas was phenomenal at finishing through traffic and was just as good at getting to the free throw line.
The problem is that so much of what Thomas did in the paint was incredibly difficult. He had to maneuver his way through the extra help defenders and had to find creative ways to generate contact.
Thomas was tied for the league league in drives last year and because of Horford’s floor spacing he could be driving even more. Thomas will never lose his aggressiveness and having that stretch five that needs to be respected by the defense will make it much more difficult to account for Thomas on the inside. If Horford is drawing out some of the opponents’ best rim protectors to the perimeter, then Thomas was be able to feast by attacking the rim. And, if the defenders don’t respect Horford on the outside, then Thomas has proven he can dish it out to a shooter that he can trust.
Thomas may see his scoring go down because of Horford, but he will be in a much better position to function as effective as possible in the offense. As remarkable as Thomas was last year at generating opportunities for himself and his teammates, his shooting percentages and efficiency as a finisher could improve. That improvement would have been impossible without giving him the help he needs to generate quality opportunities.
Thomas has been the lone play maker for the Celtics for his entire time with the team and now he has, by far, the best help around him. His field goal percentage should be able to get close to around 45%, as opposed to the 42.8% he hit last year.
Horford will also be the Celtics’ best option on the inside, and that could be where he has his biggest impact on their overall shooting. Defenses will be forced to respect Horford when he is on the inside, particularly because of how poorly the rest of the team has shot. That alone will lead to more opportunities on the outside and Thomas will always look to take advantage of that. Thomas will have no problem taking those better looks himself, but he has also proven he can find his teammates that are in better positions.
The Celtics have had reliable finishers on the inside, but Horford gives them an option who can create a lot more offense in the paint and that will give Thomas a more open teammates to find on the outside.
One of the great advantages of Horford is his ability to transform the Celtics’ offense without the ball in his hands. Thomas can be a serviceable off ball player and can be a trusted catch and shoot player, but he has proven he can be much more than that. Thomas’ has found exactly how he needs to run Stevens’ offense in order for it to be at its best and Horford should not be taking the ball out of his hands too much.
The Celtics have proven that they can be a high scoring team, but they have lacked the proficiency to be one of the top offensive teams in the league. Horford, with his ability to shoot the ball and his ability ro provide floor spacing, will be a crucial piece in reaching their offensive potential and should have an impact on all the players around him.
Thomas will continue to be the main play maker and will continue to dictate the pace of the offense but it is about time they added another player who can be as, if not more, impactful than him on the offensive end. Horford is the biggest reason why Thomas should continue to improve as a player this season and that includes what he does as a distributor and as a scorer.