Al Horford‘s performance against top NBA teams suggests Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens may be right when they say Horford’s max-contract value can’t be judged by counting stats alone.
But how does he perform against the best teams and bigs the NBA has to offer? As the headline above and table nearby suggests, pretty well — with a few qualifiers..
By Brendan Forbes
Overall, Al Horford continues to rank among the top NBA power forwards in both win shares (fourth) and RPM (fifth.) (RPM is ESPN’s “real plus-minus” stat, which accounts for overall performance weighted by general opponent.)
Horford’s performance against the elite is summarized nearby. Considering these are, we’d argue, the top (other) NBA bigs, and on 8 of the best 16 teams in the league, the composite numbers look pretty good. Several caveats, though, are in order.
For example, we define “big men” not in the traditional, back-to-the basket bigs, but as modern bigs. DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond probably aren’t on our top 10 list. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Giannis are. Their mobility and still makes them all the more dangerous: not the biggest, but the best bigs.
As well, in an age of ubiquitous switching and so-called positionless basketball, no one is implying that Horford is always “matched up” directly against the bigs listed. But he sometimes is. And when he’s not, it still falls to Horford as the defense’s quarterback to help protect the rim, and manage the team defensive rebounding effort.
Top Tier vs. almost-top-tier
Against the Greek Freak, Embid, and other bigs that are not surrounded by two or more solid shooters, Horford (and the Celtics) have relatively less trouble.
Add in spacing, or a second quality athletic big — Houston, Golden State, Toronto, Cleveland — and Horford is more challenged. Then again, who in the NBA isn’t?
One worrisome note: In the rock-paper-scissors that is the NBA, it may well be that the Celtics match up better against Golden State and Houston than they do against Cleveland and Toronto.
Cleveland’s addition of Larry Nance Jr., for example, along with the anticipated return of Kevin Love, bodes caution. Nance supplies energy and athleticism that Thompson used to — and with a somewhat better floor game.
Earlier this year, Stephen A. Smith dissed Horford with the observation, “he loses to LeBron religiously.” So far, true. James is a “big” mountain indeed — one teams in the east have been trying to scale for 7 straight years.
Then again, as Nelson Mandela observed, “it’s always impossible until you do it.” That makes for a tall order for Horford. Not to mention Brad Stevens. Then again, #BannersAreFlat.
Players in table: Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Clint Capela, Serge Ibaka, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Joel Embid, Dario Saric.