Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

The Philadelphia 76ers’ offseason prize has struggled in recent weeks.

After missing two games to knee and hamstring pain a couple weeks back, Al Horford has seen his production plummet. While there’s no tangible connection to his injuries — the Philadelphia 76ers haven’t listed Horford as hurt or hampered — one can feasibly link the two events.

Whether it’s directly tied to his injuries or not, Horford’s recent slump has led many to question his standing in Philadelphia’s long-term plans. His fit next to Joel Embiid was never seamless, and his sudden deterioration as a shooter and a playmaker has only made the pairing worse.

In the Sixers’ most recent loss to Miami, Horford was benched in favor of Trey Burke down the stretch. When he checked in for a crucial defensive possession in overtime, the 33-year-old fouled Jimmy Butler on a switch, which led to Butler’s game-winning free throw.

Horford has been a stonemason on offense and a liability on defense. Even for someone whose impact has historically transcended the box score, his numbers of late are abysmal — 9.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists on .395/.281/1.000 shooting since the injury.

This has been a season of adjustments for Horford. He’s a brilliant basketball mind, but going from a key playmaker in Boston to a floor-spacer in Philadelphia requires a drastic shift in approach and mindset. Add injury concerns and advanced age to the mix, and you have a dangerous cocktail on the brink of combustion.

The Sixers need to stick with Horford. For now, at least. Early in the season, Horford gave fans a proper taste of his quirky, smarts-driven versatility. He’s still a nice match for Ben Simmons, and there’s reason to believe time will yield a resurgence.

If Horford needs to get healthy, perhaps the All-Star break will do him good. If it’s more a result of his aging bones and an increased need for rest … perhaps the All-Star break will do him good. The Sixers have proactively preserved Embiid and Horford all season. Expect that preservation to ramp up as the playoffs edge closer.

Ask Brett Brown, the front office, or even Embiid, and they will tell you this is a roster built for the postseason. The Sixers don’t necessarily need Horford going full tilt every night in December, similar to Embiid. With that said, Horford’s current set of issues doesn’t translate particularly well to a hypothetical postseason setting.

Next: Embiid finally earns Player of the Week

In certain matchups — Milwaukee stands out the most — Horford makes limitless sense for the Sixers as part of a physical, jumbo-sized assault on the basketball senses. In other key matchups, however, it’s becoming more and more reasonable to question the necessity — or even the utility — of Horford as a fourth or fifth star.