Al Horford is a really good player. There’s a reason he is one of a couple guys in the NBA who won two NCAA titles. When you consider he was the best player on those Florida teams, he’s a guy who has a very rare pedigree in that regard. When the Celtics gave him a $30 million per season contract this off season, it set a very high standard for him, especially in blue-collar Boston. The truth is, this guy has been as good as advertised.
How many borderline seven footers in the NBA can protect the rim, stretch the floor with their shooting on offense and lead a fastbreak? You probably need only one hand to count them, and Horford is one. He can score in the post or facing up. He is unselfish and constantly makes the right pass, backed up by his five assists per game, which ranks him second to Draymond Green for NBA big men. He can switch on guards on the perimeter and play stout low post defense.
Rebounding admittedly is not one of Horford’s strengths, making him an easy target when the Celtics struggled to rebound mid-season. Regardless, he has been a great fit. He gives the Celtics needed size. He doesn’t need the ball, but he actually is a rare big man who makes other people better when he does get it. Even more so, he represents a huge upgrade over the other big men on this roster. Amir Johnson is serviceable at best. Kelly Olynyk has his moments, but he also has games when you wonder how he’s in the league. Tyler Zeller is a back up.
As is often the case, Horford has stepped his game up post All-Star break, especially here in March. Despite shooting 39% from the floor in February, the big man has shot a scorching 58% in March. After an ugly four-game run to end February when he went 11-35 from the floor (1-12 from deep), he’s gone back to basics. Among December, January and February, Horford had eight games when he shot less than three times from three-point range. He’s already had 11 such games in March, despite missing two games. That is certainly a sign that he is taking better shots and operating more as a facilitator.
Early in the season, Horford struggled to find his footing with his new team. He played in only five November games and seemed much more perimeter oriented on offense than the guy people watched in Atlanta. Horford is a veteran big man who knows that the playoffs are why he was brought here, so it is not surprising that we’ve seen him turn a corner in March. Expect him to be the difference between a first round exit last year and at least one series win in the playoffs. I’ll bet on his winning track record.