One of the main reasons that the Philadelphia 76ers inked Al Horford to a massive four-year deal over the offseason was because of his versatility. They viewed him as a player that could play forward alongside All-Star center Joel Embiid, and also play the center spot when Embiid is out. Considering the fact that Embiid missing games is almost an inevitability due to his sheer size and unique injury history, the Horford signing made sense, on paper at least. In reality, though, it hasn’t gone as smoothly as Horford or the Sixers may have hoped.
Horford is averaging just 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor; numbers that are all well below his career averages in those categories. The 6.6 rebounds per game represent a career-low, and the Sixers have gone just 3-4 in games that Embiid has missed this season. Plus, Horford often looks lost out on the floor in the Sixers’ system — or at least uninvolved — especially on the offensive end, where he is often reduced to a floor-spacer when he plays alongside Embiid and Ben Simmons. The slow start isn’t lost anyone that has paid close attention to the Sixers so far this season, and it certainly isn’t lost on the veteran forward, who recently revealed that he’s still struggling to find his rhythm with his new team.
“It’s not as good as I want to be,” Horford said of his season thus far, via Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I still haven’t been able to find my rhythm with the team… I’m out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff… So all I have to do is make sure I’m there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win.”
The main problem is that Horford’s skill set on the offensive end is redundant with Philadelphia’s two other All-Stars. Horford is at his best when he’s operating either from the elbow or the low block. He is very comfortable with creating good looks for himself and others from these areas. The issue with that is Embiid and Simmons are also both most comfortable in these areas, especially on the low block, where Embiid does a fair share of his damage, and where Simmons is often relegated as a result of his inability to space the floor with his shot.
Thus, Horford has been spending a lot of time on the perimeter, where he’s limited, and not especially effective. He’s not the type of player that is going to break a defender down and make athletic drives to the basket, especially at 33. So instead he has been shooting a lot of 3s; a career-high four per game to be exact, and he’s connecting at a 34 percent clip – just a tick below the league average. So for large stretches of game time, Horford serves as an extremely expensive, below average floor-spacer. When Embiid is out, Horford gets to play inside a bit more, but redundancy with Simmons still exists. Also, Horford has failed to provide reliable rim protection in Embiid’s absence, which is another main reason that the Sixers signed him.
A bit of an adjustment period was to be expected for the Sixers, as they entered the season with two new starters and a new rotation. However, with all the talent that they have on the roster, one would think that they would be a bit more consistent than they have been by the time the calendar flipped from 2019 to 2020.
“It’s always an adjustment period when you are with a new team,” Horford said. “Things don’t necessarily click how you want them to. It’s just a different challenge.”
It’s not panic time for head coach Brett Brown and the Sixers, who sit at sixth in the East entering the new year, as there is still plenty of season left for them to get in a groove. They showed just how high their ceiling is with an impressive win on Christmas over the Bucks, but to follow that performance up with three consecutive road losses isn’t a good sign. If the Sixers are going to reach their lofty potential as a team, they need to find a way to get Horford more comfortable, and involved, out on the floor. Thus far, they have been unable to do so.