Al Horford is off to a great start but he can still look to be more aggressive
In just three games with the Boston Celtics, Al Horford has already made it clear that he is going to be an impact player on both ends. He has been the best interior defender Brad Stevens has ever had at his disposal, and he has been an effective threat from all over the court. In fact, it feels as though any way Horford has chosen to attack works. He has been benefitting form open shots, but he has been doing even more with his ability to create in the paint.
Add on what Horford is doing as a passer and there really have been no glaring negatives in his game. He has been making positive plays every time he touches the ball and has shown a great understanding of how to play within Boston’s offense. There is, however, one area where he can change that will allow him to have a greater impact on the offensive end.
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Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics a great model of the balance between attacking and distributing, and right now Horford is still trying to find that balance. With how effective Horford has been all over the court on offense, he can completely expand his impact by being a more aggressive scorer. By demanding the ball in the post more and being less hesitant on his shots, he can start to catch up to Thomas as the most important offensive player.
Horford is around his career high in total shooting percentage at 55.6 percent, and has done a remarkable job shooting, by far, a career high 65 percent from two point range. Horford has been a matchup problem in all games and good things have been happening any time he is attacking. The only downside, however, is taking just nine shots per game.
Horford is coming from a system in Atlanta where ball movement is absolutely essential and that kind of unselfishness has been a key part of his game. That is also very valuable to the Celtics. They need ball movement and they need players that will keep the offense in rhythm. With a career high 4.7 assists per game, there is no doubting that Horford is maintaining and improving that ball movement.
One of the bigger differences between what the Celtics try to do and what the Hawks try to do is the aggressiveness. The one area where Horford may not have fully adapted to the Celtics is how important that aggressiveness is. Jared Sullinger, who never even approached Horford’s finishing ability, took over 12 shots per game in each of the past two years. Horford is currently taking the fourth most shots on the team, and that needs to change.
Both Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley have fully embraced that aggressiveness. Any time they get any room on a shot there is no hesitation. They may not get the ball moving like Horford, but they understand how it kills their offense to pass up on good opportunities. Even last season, the Celtics had three bench players in Evan Turner, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk who all took around the same amount of shots that Horford is taking right now.
One of the more remarkable things about the Celtics this year has been Horford’s ability to look completely comfortable in the offensive system. He has done a better job than anyone other than maybe Thomas and Bradley at avoiding being a liability or a negative presence in any sense, but there still are ways for him to optimize his impact and that will all be about aggressiveness.
One of the issues could also be that the Celtics have never had a big man they want to attack like this. Their offense has rarely been looking to a big man as a number one option and they have always had multiple perimeter options that they wanted to be more aggressive than any of their bigs.
Horford changes that dynamic, and while he needs to be more aggressive with his opportunities, his teammates also need to get more comfortable looking for a big man to take over the game offensively. Horford is arguably the best talent that Stevens has had in his career and there is no reason to doubt that improvement will be inevitable.
At this point it is still a part of the learning process. The Celtics have always been a team to improve throughout the season and with this little time spent on the team, Horford should be a key part of that improvement.
Horford’s ability to be the best all around player on the team has been on full display to start out the season and now both he and Stevens have a better idea of how they need to attack in order to have a bigger impact. There have been times where Hoford has opted to keep the ball moving rather than taking a quick uncontested three. That has not hurt them but it has kept them from being at their best.
It has only been three games and with the way Horford has already established this level of comfort, gradual improvement should be expected. He will continue to learn, his teammates will continue to adapt and Stevens will get him in better and better positions. Aggressiveness has been a key to all impactful offensive player for the Celtics, and that is the one area that Horford needs to improve into reach his full potential.