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Al Horford Is More Than Just A $109M Insurance Policy For The Sixers – jj

Al Horford Is More Than Just A $109M Insurance Policy For The Sixers


Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand made one thing clear Friday: Al Horford is far more than just a $109 million insurance policy.

During a press conference to introduce the Sixers’ free-agent signings, Brand spoke glowingly about Horford’s fit with All-Star Joel Embiid and the versatility he brings to the table in Philadelphia.

“We know that [Horford and Embiid] can play together, and we know that they can play well together,” Brand said. “But the opportunity to have Al back [Embiid] up at times, especially in the playoffs, and be the 5, it’s a great opportunity for us.”

As Brand repeatedly conceded Friday, a lack of reliable center depth was one of the Sixers’ most glaring issues this past season. In their two-point loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they were outscored by 10 points in Embiid’s three minutes off the floor.

That wasn’t the first glaring plus/minus split involving Embiid in the playoffs.

In their five-point loss to the Raptors in Game 4, an under-the-weather Embiid still finished as a plus-17 on the night. He was also a plus-40 in their 11-point win in Game 6 against Toronto, and he finished as a plus-18 in their four-point win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of their first-round series.

That was a running theme throughout the regular season, too. The Sixers posted a plus-7.6 net rating with Embiid on the floor—second only to the Milwaukee Bucks leaguewide—but their minus-3.5 net rating sans Embiid would have ranked 25th, just behind the Washington Wizards. His plus-11.1 on/off differential was nearly four points higher than that of his next-closest teammate (JJ Redick, plus-7.4).

In Horford, the Sixers are getting a five-time All-Star who has logged 83 percent of his career minutes at center. When Embiid sits, they’ll have Horford back him up and steady seven-year veteran Kyle O’Quinn as a third-string option. That’s a marked upgrade over the mishmash of Boban Marjanovic, Greg Monroe and Amir Johnson that they rolled out last season.

“When I spoke to Joel [during exit interviews] … he understood that our goal is to deliver the best Joel Embiid to the postseason,” Brand said when asked whether Embiid would be more willing to regulate his playing time this season given the Sixers’ new options behind him. “So whatever that takes, he’s on board for that.

“And having these options [Horford and O’Quinn]— we did fall off a cliff once Joel was off the court, especially defensively—so having these great options now bodes well for our team success. And he’s on board, for sure.”

The Sixers didn’t just sign Horford to be a $25-plus million backup, though.

“We look forward to having Al playing on the court,” Brand said. “The versatility of this lineup is what’s important. He can play the 4, he can play the 5. We have many players that can play multiple positions.”

When Horford slots in at the 4 alongside Embiid, the Sixers might have the NBA’s most physically imposing frontcourt. Questions abound about their fit together on both ends of the floor—Is Horford quick enough to guard small-ball 4s? Will there be enough spacing around them?—but the positives are tough to ignore, too.

While Embiid was tied for 11th leaguewide with 3.9 screen assists per game last season, Horford wasn’t far behind him with 3.4 (tied for 18th). They can turn into Philly’s version of the Bash Brothers, laying bone-crunching screens to open driving lanes for Ben Simmons and open three-point looks for Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris.

When he isn’t busy setting screens, Horford will help balance the Sixers’ offense as a facilitator. He’s one of the NBA’s best-passing big men, having averaged 4.6 assists per game during his three-year stint in Boston.

That passing ability should endear Horford to Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who has long preached the importance of ball movement. The Sixers have ranked among the top five leaguewide in passes per game for each of the past five seasons and were second in potential assists (trailing only the Golden State Warriors) last year.

Horford likely won’t be a high-volume scorer in Philadelphia—he hasn’t averaged more than 15 points per game since the 2015-16 season—but he’ll help out the Sixers’ floor spacing.

He drilled 38.2 percent of his 3.2 long-range attempts per game during his time with the Celtics, nearly all of which were of the catch-and-shoot variety rather than pull-up jumpers. He should receive such looks in droves when opponents double-team Embiid or Simmons drives and kicks to an open shooter.

Counting stats alone won’t capture all that Horford brings to the table in Philadelphia. If Sixers fans concern themselves with measuring his box-score output against his salary, Horford will turn into the second coming of late-2000s Andre Iguodala.

But between the value he’ll provide as a viable backup to Embiid and the potential of a supersized frontcourt in a league that’s downsized over recent years, Horford could well prove worth every penny of his four-year, $109 million contract, per-game averages be damned.

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