Is Boston Celtics big Al Horford an elite center in the NBA?

Al Horford had an underrated impact on the Boston Celtics, but how high should he be ranked compared to elite NBA centers?

When Al Horford signed for the Boston Celtics during the 2016 free agency period, one of the most significant things about the acquisition was the $113,000,000 he would be pocketing over the course of the 4 years.

This is because in sports, the amount of money someone earns is seen as a reflection of their talent level. If someone is a top earner, that would reflect that they are one of the top players in their respective position.

So, with a year passed and the dust well and truly settled on his arrival in Boston, the question must be asked; is Horford a top NBA big man?

CLEVELAND, OH – MAY 23: The Cavaliers’ Kyle Korver, left, and the Celtics’ Al Horford, right, have a different opinion on which team should be given possession on a second half out of bounds play. Boston got the ball. The Boston Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers for Game Four of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals playoff series at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH on May 23, 2017. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)


In the league there a few big’s that Horford simply isn’t better than. This group includes DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and the like. However, there are players that I see consistently ranked above Horford that I believe he is better than.

One of these players being Los Angeles Clipper DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is a terrific rebounder for sure, and he does beat Horford in terms of rebounding the basketball he gets 13.8 rebounds to Horford’s 6.) Although I do believe that Horford beats him overall.

Horford is a better three point shooter for sure, shooting 35.5 percent to Jordan’s 0.0 percent (0 of 0 shots attempted), and this is a big part of being a modern center. And an achilles heel to Jordan’s offensive is his notoriously awful free throw shooting; scoring 48.2% of his attempts at the line. Horford on the other hand, made 80% of his foul shots.

Jordan’s high field goal percentage is certainly impressive, as he finishes 71.4 percent of his attempts. However, it’s important to remember that 6.8 of his 7.1 attempted field goals a game are from less than five feet away from the basket. Jordan is of course brilliant from close range, but as is Horford who has the wider skillset.

Even as a distributor Horford is superior, making 5 assists a game to Jordan’s 1.2.

And on the defensive end of the court Jordan doesn’t really blow him away. Horford just wins on steals (0.8 to 0.6), and Jordan also gets a pretty narrow statistical victory for blocks (1.7 to 1.3).

Even though Jordan is regarded as a better defensive piece, Horford still has a marginally higher defensive field goal percentage at 46.9%, whereas Jordan’s was 46.0%. Jordan is a better interior defender for sure, conceding 26.7 points in the paint compared to Horford’s 29.1.

Statistics can conclude that Horford is a more dimensional shooter due to his ability to hit threes and free throws compared with Jordan’s inefficiencies from those positions, and Horford is hardly blown away on defense. As a complete player, I’d say Horford is better.

In my honest opinion, Horford’s three point abilities are what carry him over a lot of the big men in the league. There are people such as Dwight Howard, and Hassan Whiteside who all possess decent stat lines, possibly ones that match up to Horford’s, but it’s the thre point shooting of the Dominican that is the deciding factor.

There is a big man who also suffers from triple point inefficiencies but is still a high level center. This is Rudy Gobert, whose protective contributions have earned him a nomination for defensive player of the year.

But how does Al Horford compare to him?

Well, to no surprise Gobert is better on the defensive segment of the game. Horford wins on steals by a very fine margin (0.8 to 0.6), but Rudy’s block stats dispose of Horford’s in a pretty convincing fashion. The Frenchman averaged 2.6 blocks a night versus Al’s 1.3. Also, Gobert conceded fewer points in the paint, (27.6 to 29.0) and players shot worse vs Rudy than vs Horford (Horford defensive field goal % was 46.9, compared to 43.1). The Utah man also doubled Horford’s rebound count.

Horford is a better offensive player according to statistics. He gets more assists, (5.0 to 1.2), shoots better from the three point and free throw range, and overall is a more equipped attacking tool due to Gobert’s attacking focus being less than 5 feet away from the basket.

This is similar to Jordan’s stats showing, but the decider here is that Gobert is so much better than Horford defensively that I think the decision would have to go to Gobert. Horford could at least hold his own with Jordan on the back-end, and his offensive abilities were more various than Jordan’ that an argument could be made. However here Gobert is probably the better big.

So if we agree that Al is better than elite big man  Jordan, but not as good as the elite ilk like Davis or Cousins, then where should he be ranked? Well, personally I would place him on the same tier as a Marc Gasol, mainly because of the fact that the stats communicate that they are similar players.

Horford’s defensive field goal percentage of 46.9% is better than Gasol’s, but Gasol concedes fewer points in the painted zone. In the assists department, Horford is superior by 0.4, not a major difference at all. Gasol’s post up scoring percentage is better than Horford’s, but Horford wins on shots from less than 5 feet. On shots that are from 5-9 feet away from the basket they are more or less equal, and Gasol is better from 10-14 feet, yet Horford wins on 15-19 feet shooting.


As you can see they often cancel each other out, and this is an interesting find. With Horford at a higher level than the likes of Jordan, but on the same level as Gasol, surely he must be considered an elite NBA center. Jordan is widely regarded as one of the best men in the league for his position, and Gasol is a very respectable player too.

Of course the main priority for any player in any team based sport is to contribute to the side you’re on, and Horford does just that. His 3 point range spaces the floor for offensive outlets such as Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, and he fits the current system very well. Even if you don’t believe that he is one of the best Centers in the league, you surely must agree that he is a key cog in the metaphorically well oiled machine that is the Brad Stevens Boston Celtics.