The shooting of free agent splash Al Horford has been marred by inconsistency, reaching a boiling point in Wednesday’s loss to New York.
There is little doubt that center Al Horford has played an integral part in the Boston Celtics morphing into one of the most dynamic ball-moving offensive squads in the NBA. His passing skills and ability to find teammates off of the dribble has been a catalyst in Boston’s effectiveness in garnering buckets off of assists. His wizardry passing the rock was underlined in Wednesday night’s 117-106 defeat at the hands of the Knicks, as Horford dished out a season-high 10 assists, his highest dime total of the season. This impressive effort increased Horford’s assist rate per 36 minutes to a career-best 5.5 while pushing his assist percentage to a scintillating 24.3 percent, clocking his previous high of 18.6 percent in 2014-15.
However, the appreciation of Horford’s passing skills have been diminished by his shortcomings in other aspects of the game, most notably his effectiveness from the field. In the disappointing loss to the scuffling Knicks, who were performing without leading minute-getter Kristaps Porzingis, Horford attracted boos from the crowd by shooting a horrific 2-14 from the field. He knocked down just one of his eight attempts from outside the three-point arc, including a horrendous airball on a wide-open straightaway trey in the second period. Harrowingly, this is not the first time this month that Horford has fared below the 20 percent line in a contest while taking at least 14 shot attempts. On January seventh in a victory over the Pelicans, Horford converted just three of his 18 field goal tries, hitting on just one of his six three-point looks.
In the month of December, Horford shot less than 36 percent from the field on six separate occasions. For someone who is expected to serve as a commanding post presence, a true shooting percentage of 53.5 percent, a career-low for the four-time All-Star, is abysmal. Performing in the fast-paced, outside-shot oriented offense of head coach Brad Stevens, Horford is taking a career-high seven three-pointers per 100 possessions. The results have not been ideal, as Horford is converting on just 2.3 of those attempts while hitting on a porous 32.4 percent of his looks from deep. Horford’s releasing of the outside shot on a consistent basis does provide a collection of positives for the Celtics’ offensive flow. It spreads the floor and requires his defender to consider him a threat from deep, dragging them out to the perimeter to open up driving lanes for the likes of point guard Thomas. However, Horford has appearances where he remains content solely remaining on the outside and hoisting up three-point attempts.
This leads to results similar to what occurred against the Knicks, as the Celtics shot just 9-33 from beyond the arc. Horford’s game is best served when he is on the block posting up against smaller power forwards who are matched up with him down low or when he is able to drive past a center who is forced to check him on the outside and toss in a smooth jump-hook. Horford’s ability to harm the opposition with his scoring prowess has been diminished by his falling in love with the outside look. Horford’s average shot attempt comes from 14.1 feet from the basket, the furthest mark of his career, while just 65.7 percent of his attempts come from inside the three-point line. Prior to 2015-16, Horford had never attempted fewer than 96 percent of his shots from two-point range. This season, his conversion rate on two-point field goals has dipped to a career-worst 51.8 percent, as he is taking more deep two-pointers in the process of taking a career-low 21.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the hoop. As a result, Horford’s average of points per 36 minutes (16.4) has fallen to its lowest mark since 2011-12 and his offensive rating (112) is at its smallest point since 2013-14.
While Horford’s taking of the deep shot attempt spreads the floor and allows him for more chances to pump-fake, drive, and dish to an open teammate spotted up on the outside, he needs to be more selective with his three-point attempts. If the shot is not falling, Horford must be able to take one dribble into the teeth of the defense and utilize his court vision to spread the ball to another option.