Al Horford has earned his max contract with his game changing rim protection
Al Horford‘s impact on the Boston Celtics this season has been interesting to gauge. While many expected a bit more out of him considering the massive contract and being touted as the best free agency acquitiion in the team’s history, he is still making a great case as the best all around player on the team. Horford is yet to have the kind of scoring impact that was expected, but that does not mean he has not lived up to the contract he was given.
The Celtics brought Horford in expecting him to be a top offensive option. They needed him to finally be that stretch forward they have been searching for and while he has been a remarkable shooter and arguably the best passing big in the league, he is leaving a bit to be desired with just 15.7 points per game, a number that he certainly has the talent to increase.
Even if Horford can be seen as a minor disappointment on the offensive end, he has made up for all of it on the defensive game. The biggest problem on the Celtics and the more important area for Horford on this team has always been rim protection. The Celtics had absolutely no interior defense last season, and Horford was supposed to come in and transform that, and that is exactly what he is doing.
Horford is blowing games up with his shot blocking ability. He has multiple games with over five blocks on his own and he has successfully changed how teams will look to attack the Celtics, The back court defense will continue to be their strength because of depth, but it is hard to argue against Horford being their strongest individual defender this season.
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The contrast in how many blocks Horford gets compared to the rest of the team is jarring. His 2.2 blocks per game are so far head of anyone else on the team that it would take the next six leading blockers on the team to surpass that mark of 2.2. Horford has truly been a game changer with his shot blocking ability, and the Celtics would be reaching new lows of pathetic interior defense without his presence.
Horford’s role on offense is still developing. He is still searching for that balance of shooting and passing. That being said, there are no mysteries on the defensive end. He is their anchor and that rim protection alone ensures that there is absolutely no regrets with the contract. In fact, Horford has actually been better than what should have been expected of him with the shot blocking.
Horford’s 2.2 blocks per game is almost double his career average of 1.2, and this is the first time he has eclipsed two in his entire career. An increase was expected with no other shot blockers playing around him, but Horford wasted absolutely no time in reaching new heights with that his season average. Right now, there is no player on the team that impacts the defense in one way better than Horford has with his rim protection, and his ability to defend on the perimeter makes him one of the most complete defenders in the league.
Horford is not an immobile defender who stands in the paint waiting for a shot to block. Horford is constantly defending on the outside, without ever sacrificing the necessary protection on the inside. The Celtics are no longer giving up too many uncontested layups, and Horford is able to combine that with incredibly versatility. Whether they are a bruiser who looks to destroy games in the paint, or if they are stretch forwards who look to shoot, Horford has proven that he will be able to cover any of them in any situation.
Horford should continue to improve on the offensive end for the Celtics, but if he stays exactly where he is on defense, there will be no complaints from anyone. It is impossible to look at him as disappointing or overpaid with the impact he is having on defense. As important is it is for Horford to be a top offensive option, it was even more important that he became a top defender for them, and that is exactly what he has done.
The one area where Horford can look to improve on defense is rebounding. While it is not nearly enough to overshadow his rim protection, the Celtics need more rebounding from Horford, as well as every other front court player on the team.
Rebounding is Boston’s biggest weakness this season, and as a starting center, Horford needs to be better than 6.8 rebounds per game. Horford has never been a top rebounder in his career, but there is no reason for him to have regressed by moving to a team that has no other rebounder with him in the front court.
Some of the issues can be attributed to his increased three point shooting, and increase in perimeter defense. On offense and on defense, the Celtics are pulling Horford out of the paint a lot more, and that is taking away some of his reboundig opportunities. That being said, there is no reason that a guard should be out rebounding him, and he needs to be able to get much closer to his career overage of 8.8 per game. In fact, coming into this season Horford was expected to improve his rebounding numbers. on such a weak rebounding team.
Even if he improves, rebounding will continue to be a problem for the Celtics. They did not bring him in expecting him to immediately fix their rebounding problems, the concerns are strictly because they did not expect to regress because of him.
There is no doubting that there are areas where Horford is leaving a bit to be desired, but he deserves more time to improve before being considered a bust because of that. That being said, rim protection was always the priority with him and that is the biggest difference between this and last year’s team. The Celtics finally have their rim protector and it is a welcomed sight that they have a problem who can destroy games and force teams to game play around his shot blocking.