Al Horford continues to find ways to influence gaming. No longer an indoor scorer, Horford became an integral member of the Boston CelticsThe five-a-side system, where Joe Mazzola utilizes his play-making ability, an ever-improving three-point shot, and a willingness to be a checking agent to ensure that Horford’s offensive influence remains a potent offensive weapon.
Defensively, Horford continues to excel at playing corners, using his body to cut drive lanes, deter pass opportunities, and protect the rim against smaller players and converts, while also hitting the NBA’s mammoth delivery.
against the Charlotte Hornets On Monday night, we got to see every side of the modern Horford, with the veteran shining in the role and seemingly showing a new lease of life now that he’s been paired with a fit Robert Williams once again. As with everything the Celtics do these days, Horford’s influence began on the outside perimeter, serving as a liaison on solid offensive possession that showed great investigation and movement to generate an open three-point shot.
Possession begins when Horford is located in the corner – an area of the field where he is currently Converting 47% of his shots, scoring 31 of 66 attempts so far. As Marcus Smart exits Derrick White’s screen, he lunges down wide to open Horford. A quick pass from Robert Williams sees Horford gain possession before quickly guiding the ball to White before laying up a screen to create the open look.
Horford’s presence in the corner ensured that the Hornets defense stayed apart. His ensuing action ensured that the defense got into motion (a tip of the hat to Robert Williams because he snapped when he did that, taking Mason Plumley out of action) and that Horford screen made an open shot.
That’s what Horford does. He plays the game the right way, never focusing on box points or individual prizes, but rather on creating the best possible chance, regardless of who is shooting.
Speaking of creating chances, can we take a moment to appreciate the relationship between Horford and Williams in this part? Seeing two Celtics big men bond in this way is nothing short of a luxury and an embarrassment of riches in their five starts.
We can look at Horford’s offense more, but as far as this single game goes, his role is clear – screen (had 3 screen passes), passing (made 35 tackles), and floor space (shot 50% from depth). All things Horford does well, but also things that have limited his direct involvement in the acts. As such, let’s turn our attention to the defensive end of the field because, as we all know, Horford can defend with the best of them all.
For the majority of the season, we’ve seen Mazzola use Horford either as a drop defender or as a big man who plays up to touch on the screen and then interacts with the player. However, on the aforementioned possession, Ageless Al is guarding 25-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. on the perimeter as he looks to force him off the three-point line and enter a difficult jump or make a pass.
As the play unfolds, we see Smith Jr. looking to test Horford’s lateral movement and speed as he drives the paint in hopes of creating some separation between himself and his larger defender. We don’t give back. Horford moves his feet well, stays with his man, and affects the shot just enough to miss it, all while guarding a smaller, faster player without making a mistake to send him over the line.
On this possession, Horford returned to his usual coverage, looking to contain Terry Rozier’s lead and Plumley’s roll. As Rozier dismisses the screen, Smart and Horford position their bodies to remove the paint, direct their former teammate toward the baseline, and encourage him to either pass, shoot, or reset possession and go deeper into the shot clock.
Rosier chooses to pass, and finds Plumley around the nail. Impressively, Horford flips his hips and travels far enough to close in on the Hornets’ massive man in one step, giving him the angle to absorb any contact while also making impact on any potential shot. Horford’s post confirmed that Plumlee doesn’t have a clean look on the rim or backboard, forcing him into a little bunny fading from the backboard.
Horford has never been the most athletic or explosive player, yet his basketball IQ and ability to close down spaces with corners and moves at the right time always ensure he’s an influential member of the rotation. Now, at the age of 36, his years of using stances, angles, and game thinking are paying off as he continues to try to outsmart his opponents.
“He always steps up and answers the buzzer. He’s a great competitor, a great team guy. He’s all about winning,” Billy Donovan (who coached Horford during their time together at Florida) He said After the Celtics won on January 9 over the Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics may need to start considering potential Horford replacements in the near future, but for now, and hopefully in the next two years (the duration of his most recent contract extension), he can continue to influence games on both ends of the floor. And proof that “Ageless Al” is more than just the endearing nickname Celtics fans give across the Internet.
I’m sorry, but there can be no more slander on the Horfords after that. The dude has been great lately, and that dip was just the icing on the cake of a great performance. pic.twitter.com/9Au6beK47S
– Adam Taylor (AdamTaylorNBA) January 17, 2023
Fortunately, moments like the dunk shown above make it easy to believe that Horford will be around for a while, and that his leadership will continue to be a constant presence in the dressing room and on the field.