WALTHAM – With the NBA stressing spacing and shooting, Horford knew last year that it was time to adapt. Now in his first season with the Celtics, Horford is primed to continue evolving as a scorer.
“I really worked hard on getting better and getting comfortable shooting the three. Now I think I’m ready to take another step in that area,” Horford said. “The Hawks really encouraged me and gave me confidence to do that. That goes a long way because sometimes you want to do something, but the team doesn’t want that for you.”
After hitting a respectable 34.4 percent of his threes, Horford wants to take his shooting to higher level. The Hawks supported that process, and the Celtics will do the same.
“I think that his hard work and his adaptability to the way the game is being played has just enhanced him even more by adding to what was already one of the better mid-range shots in the league,” Brad Stevens said, “to extending that range, to not only being a reasonable three-point shooter, but a good three-point shooter. He’s a guy that is now constantly thinking about perfecting that.”
Stevens alluded to Horford’s mid-range shot, which is absolutely deadly. From 2010 through 2016, Horford ranked third in the league on two-point jumpers from 15-feet or deeper (47.3 percent), per NBA Savant.
The C’s had the 13th-highest three-point rate last season, but the third-worst make percentage. They need a player who they can rely on to rain fire from downtown and they hope it can be their latest acquisition. If Horford does manage improve his three, he could be a lethal weapon.
Horford will help anyway, even if his shot doesn’t improve, considering how versatile he is as a scorer.
“I think that anytime you have the ability to pop, roll, or play in the seam it’s a huge advantage,” Stevens said. “He’s excellent at all three and the numbers show that. We play through our bigs a lot and that’s something we have a desire to continue to do. It’s great from a fit standpoint in a lot of ways, but certainly in the way we play.”
Horford scored 1.13 points per possession in the pick-and-roll last season, per Synergy/NBA.com. His multipurpose abilities should greatly enhance the Celtics, after they ranked 28th in pick-and-roll screener scoring efficiency last season.
Horford can pass and handle the ball too, as one of the league’s most skilled bigs. He led all qualifying bigs with a 2.5 assist-turnover ratio last season, so the Celtics will utilize him as both a primary scoring and passing option.
The Celtics half court offense was stagnant at times and now they have a player they can lean on when they’re in need of a bucket.
Horford might not be the splash fans were hoping for in Kevin Durant, but Danny Ainge believes it won’t be long before fans fall in love with him.
“He plays the way great Celtics of the past have played. He plays with a passion that is contagious to his teammates. He can fit different types of players. He can play outside, he can play inside on both ends of the court,” Danny Ainge said. “I think he is a player that our fans will fall in love with, and his teammates will fall in love with, and our coach will fall in love with, as well.”
Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA