Ageless Al has done it again
Al Horford continues to find ways to impact games. No longer an interior scorer, Horford has become an integral member of the Boston Celticsfive-start system, with Joe Mazzulla using his playmaking ability, ever-improving three-point shooting and willingness to be a playmaker to ensure Horford’s offensive impact remains a potent one offensive weapon
Defensively, Horford continues to excel playing the angles, using his body to cut off driving lanes, deter passing opportunities and protect the rim from smaller, shifty players while hitting with the mammoths the NBA has to offer.
against him Charlotte Hornets On Monday night, we saw all aspects of the current Horford, with the veteran shining in his role and seemingly showing new life now that he’s being paired with tight end Robert Williams. As with everything the Celtics do these days, Horford’s impact started on the perimeter, with him acting as a connector within a solid possession offense that showed great dribbling and movement to generate an open shot three points
The possession begins with Horford positioned in the corner, an area of the court where he is currently converting 47% of his shots, hitting 31 of his 66 attempts so far. When Marcus Smart comes off a Derrick White screen, he launches into a wide pin-down to get Horford open. A quick pass from Robert Williams sees Horford gain possession before quickly throwing the ball to White before setting a screen to create the open look.
Horford’s presence in the corner ensured that the Hornets’ defense remained spaced out. His post moves ensured that the defense got going (hat tip to Robert Williams for cutting when he did, drawing Mason Plumlee away from the action) and that Horford’s screen created an open shot.
That’s what Horford does. Play the game the right way, never focusing on the box score or individual recognition, but on creating the best possible chance, regardless of who takes the shot.
Speaking of creating opportunities, can we take a moment to appreciate the connection between Horford and Williams on that lob? Seeing the Celtics’ big two link up like this is just a luxury and an embarrassment of riches in their starting five.
We could take a closer look at Horford’s offense, but for this one game, his role was clear: screen (had 3 screen assists), pass (made 35 passes), space the floor (shot at 50% from depth). All things that Horford does well, but also things that limited his direct participation in actions. So, let’s focus on the defensive end of the court because, as we all know, Horford can defend with the best of them.
For most of the season, we’ve seen Mazzulla use Horford as a drop defender or as a big man playing dunk to dunk and then reacting to the player. However, on the previous possession, Ageless Al is guarding 25-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. on the perimeter as he looks to force him out of the three-point line and into a difficult jumper or pass.
As the play unfolds, we see that Smith Jr. looks to test Horford’s lateral mobility and quickness as he gets into the paint in hopes of creating some separation between him and his bigger defender. no dice Horford moves his feet well, stays with his man and hits the shot enough to force a layup, all while guarding a smaller, quicker player without drawing a foul to send him to the line.
On this possession, Horford reverts to his usual drop coverage, looking to contain Terry Rozier’s drive and Plumlee’s pull. As Rozier rejects the screen, Smart and Horford position their bodies to clear the paint and drive their former teammate to the baseline, encouraging him to pass, shoot or reset possession and go deep the pitch clock.
Rozier opts to pass, finding Plumlee around the nail. Impressively, Horford turns his hips and covers enough distance to get to the Hornets’ big man in one step, giving him the angle to soak up any contact while affecting any potential layup. Horford’s positioning has ensured that Plumlee doesn’t get a clean look at the rim or backboard, forcing him to miss a little bunny plunging off the backboard.
Horford has never been the most athletic or explosive player, but his basketball IQ and ability to close down space with well-timed angles and moves have always ensured that he is an impactful member of a rotation. Now, at 36, the years of using positions, angles and thinking the game are paying dividends as he continues to try to outplay his opponents.
“He always steps up and answers the doorbell. It’s a great competitor, a great team. It’s about winning,” Billy Donovan (who coached Horford during their time together at Florida) said after the Celtics’ Jan. 9 win over the Chicago Bulls.
The Celtics may have to start thinking about possible replacements for Horford in the near future, but for now, and hopefully for the next two years (the length of his recent contract extension), he can continue to affect the games at both ends of the court. and prove that “Ageless Al” is more than an affectionate nickname provided by Celtics fans online.
Sorry, but no more Al Horford slander after this. Dude has been great lately, and this stunner was just the icing on the cake of an impressive performance. pic.twitter.com/9Au6beK47S
— Adam Taylor (@AdamTaylorNBA) January 17, 2023
Fortunately, moments like the one above make it easy to believe that Horford will stick around for a while and that his leadership will continue to be a constant presence in the locker room and on the court.