Can Xavier Tillman turn into the new version of old man Al Horford for the Boston Celtics?

Xavier Tillman has won over Celtics fans pretty quickly, even if he hasn't played for the team long. So much so that it seems like the Celtics are utilizing him as the replacement for the version of Al Horford they have now. But will it succeed?
Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The Boston Celtics' game against the Phoenix Suns on March 14 served as another reminder of how mind-blowingly good Al Horford still is despite his 38th birthday coming up in three months. At 37, Al is still a presence on both sides of the floor. He still hits his threes, plays excellent defense, and can make the right play.

He's so remarkably productive for his age that it's downright dumbfounding how decelerated his decline has been.

However, ever since they got him back in 2021, the writing has always been on the wall that the Celtics are on borrowed time with Horford. Boston has been as careful as they could possibly be with Horford, i.e., resting him on back-to-backs while transitioning him into a backup role.

So, of course, the question that's persisted throughout all this time is, how do they replace him? A potential answer that's been floated ever since Boston acquired him is Xavier Tillman.

It hasn't taken long for Tillman to endear himself to the Celtics' fanbase. Despite being about as fast as Greg Monroe on his best day, Tillman's footwork, switch-ability, and IQ on the defensive side of the court have been on full display in his limited time with the team.

From the looks of things, he is every bit as impactful as Horford is when he takes the floor.

These are just some of the many highlights of Tillman's defense. Put his name in the X search bar, and you'll see plenty more that demonstrate how excellent the new X-Man is there. To be fair, he hasn't been too bad offensively, either. 3.8 points per game isn't exactly prime LeBron numbers, but Tillman's offensive efficiency has skyrocketed compared to his time with the Grizzlies. His effective field goal percentage went from 43.7% to 56.9%, per Basketball-Reference.

He's not adding to the Celtics offense, but he's not proving himself a negative. It's a welcome change, given how putrid his field goal percentages were before Boston acquired him.

Even though it's only been a few games, Tillman has been so good that Celtics fans have more or less let go of a Blake Griffin reunion.

So can Xavier Tillman be the new version of old Al Horford for the Boston Celtics?

Tillman came to the Celtics with an established reputation defensively. It took no time at all for him to show that his strengths on that end are not exaggerated in the slightest. His skillset has inspired comparisons to Horford, whose defense has been one of his calling cards.

On that front, yup, Tillman can be just as good as the player Horford has been for the last three seasons. Offensively, it's a different story.

Tillman has never been a three-point threat throughout his NBA career. He's a career 26% three-point shooter, and that has not improved in Boston. Since coming to the Celtics, he's shooting 21.4% from three. However, his struggles haven't stopped the Celtics trying to turn him into a stretch big.

Here's a fun fact: despite Tillman still not shooting well from deep, 48.3% of his shots in Boston thus far have been threes. Evidently, they want Tillman to keep shooting through it anyway. Since Boston will have Tillman's bird rights, it's not hard to foresee them trying to keep him around. Especially knowing that Horford's time clock will tick louder and louder with each passing day.

Please note the phrasing here. No one is expecting Xavier Tillman to turn into prime Al Horford because that guy was a five-time All-Star who was one of the top options on perennial playoff teams. However, the version of Horford the Celtics have now -- smart defense, makes the right play, stretches the floor, takes only easy shots -- is what they may envision for Tillman.

Horford has given the Boston Celtics a lot more than many expected he would when they brought him back, but no one knows how much longer he can keep this up. The Celtics themselves showed their awareness of the situation when they brought Tillman in. At the very least, his presence helps the Celtics conserve Horford even more, but the way they've utilized him indicates there's more to it than that.

Expecting Tillman to turn into the new old man Horford is still surly expectations, but, at the very least, Tillman has shown that Horford's retirement, whether it happens in the next century or not, may not be the end of the world.