Al Horford Setting Tone With Ball Protection

Offensive balance and control is leading to Horford’s success

One of the most remarkable aspects of Al Horford‘s first season with the Boston Celtics is his ability to immediately get comfortable in the offensive system. There was absolutely no transition period, even with him being set back by the concussion. Horford has fully embraced everything that Stevens is attempting to do, and he has expanded what their offense can look like with Isaiah Thomas containing to grow as an instigator.

While Horford’s scoring has not been quite as high as expected, the most important aspect of his offensive game has been passing. Horford is at a career high 4.9 assists per game, and that completely destroys his career average of 2.8 per game. Horford’s ability to immediately adapt and change accord to Boston’s offensive system was seamless and remarkable. Those 4.9 assists per game are second to only Thomas on the team, making a great case for him to be the best and most important passing big in the league.

Horford’s 4.9 assists per game are better than any other center in the league, and Draymond Green is the lone power forward that tops him. Horford’s distribution combined with Avery Bradley‘s growth as an offensive player are the biggest reasons why the Celtics have a top 10 offense this season, and it is even more remarkable that Thomas continues to increase his scoring average with the two of them taking more of the opportunities.

Horford’s passing has not only been about the great numbers he is putting up. He is becoming a true tone setter on the team and is arguably the most important reason they are one of the highest functioning offenses in the NBA. The Celtics lead the league in assist to turnover ratio and that has truly become their offensive identity. The Celtics have the best combination of ball movement and ball security, and the numbers would be even better if they had the shooters to take advantage of more of their open shots.

Right now, Horford has the sixth best assist to turnover ratio in the NBA, and he is the only center in the top 20, with Green being the only other power forward in the top 20. Horford is redefining the kind of offensive role and presence that a center can have, and the impact he has in establishing and maintaining their great ball movement has more than made up for his decline in scoring.

The Celtics knew they had an offensive stud in Thomas, and one of the greatest aspects of his game is exactly what Horford has been doing this year. Last season, Thomas was the only player in the league to score better than 22 points per game, have more than six assists per game, with 2.7 or less turnovers per game. Thomas continues to grow as one of the most balanced offensive players in the league, and that is the exact same route that Horford is taking.

Right now, Horford has found an ideal balance of distributing and ball security, with the one area he can improve on being his aggressiveness as a shooter. Horford has not quite captured the balance of Thomas, but that may not be a fair criticism. The Celtics have not put Horford in a position to have as great an impact as a scorer, but that is the one area he can continue to grow his offensive impact with the Celtics.

The Celtics are finally starting to find their form and have seen great success with their starting lineup fully healthy. Horford’s ability to immediately get comfortable on the offensive end has been impressive he is right behind Thomas when it comes to being a tone setter. While Bradley is more important as a shooter right now, Horford is giving Thomas that teammate that establishes great offensive flow.

The Celtics’ offense does not work if they are not playing in rhythm. They realize that leaning on Thomas to create every offensive opportunity will never be good enough to be a top offense, and Horford is doing a great job of expanding the kind of opportunities created on the starting unit.

Dec 25, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Boston Celtics center al Horford (42) takes a shot while being defended by New York Knicks center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Celtics won 119-114. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Having a center that can shoot threes is difficult enough for defenses to account for. Add in the remarkable passing and Horford is becoming one of the most dynamic weapons in the NBA. Horford joined the Celtics as an established veteran, and was at a point in his career where adapting his game cannot always be expected.

Stevens is still figuring out how to optimize Horford’s remarkable talent and that has completely expanded how Horford can impact the game. His most important impact in setting the offensive tone has been with that stellar assist to turnover ratio, but Horford is also expanding his game with an increase in three point shooting.

Horford is the veteran and a leader on the team, and his willingness and ability to adapt in the best way to help the team is the exact example that everyone else on the team needs to follow. Thomas has done the same thing by expanding his game every year with the Celtics, and seeing the two of them and Bradley, the three best players on the team, continue to grow and adapt is exactly what one of the youngest teams in the league needs.

Horford is helping set an example that will trickle all the way down to the depth of the bench. The Celtics have a lot of undetermined players and roles because of their youth, and if everyone can take the approach of adapting their game to have the best impact for this team, they will continue to be one of the fastest growing teams in the league.

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