Al Horford film review: Breaking down the big man's many strengths and a fair concern

Al Horford film review: Breaking down the big man's many strengths and a fair concern

Two-time national champion, five-time All-Star, playoff regular and ultimate professional — you likely are familiar with the outline of Al Horford’s long resume. He’s a Sixer now, which remains an odd sentence to write.

Before his first season with his new team, let’s look at the ways in which Horford can help the Sixers and how he can be best used.

Offense: A man of many strengths 

Watching Horford’s four matchups vs. the Sixers last season again, the skill that jumped out most was his passing. He has both the ability to anticipate defensive rotations and adapt to the play unfolding in front of him.

The sequence below illustrates those skills. Horford gains position in the post against T.J. McConnell, which prompts Jimmy Butler to sprint across the floor to double team Horford. The simple, solid read would be to sense Butler’s double team and fire it to the man he was guarding in the left corner, Gordon Hayward. Horford, though, sees Mike Scott rotate over to pick up Hayward, keeps his composure and finds the unguarded Marcus Morris.

Last season, Horford had a 24.7 assist ratio, second among centers who averaged at least 25 minutes a game, per NBA.com/Stats — Nikola Jokic was first.

Horford’s pick-and-pop prowess also stands out on film. He has a good sense of timing on his screens and has a veteran’s knack for getting away with a decent amount of upper-body contact.

If an open jumper isn’t available off the pick-and-pop, Horford becomes a threat as a playmaker. 

On this play from last Christmas, Horford effectively screens JJ Redick and Kyrie Irving drives right. Joel Embiid makes the late call to have Redick switch on to Horford, which leaves the Sixers' defense slightly off balance. Horford drives hard to the left and draws help from Wilson Chandler, then hits Morris in the corner with an excellent pass.

Though he won’t wow you with advanced dribble moves or lightning speed, Horford can spark the offense in a variety of ways.

He can guard a center and grab a defensive rebound, bring it up the floor, initiate the offense and finish it all off by swishing a jumper.

Horford is not going to slow the Sixers’ offense down, even at 33 years old. If anything, he seems well suited to running with Ben Simmons and executing quick dribble handoffs like the one in the play above, both as the ball handler and as the man receiving the handoff. 

There are a lot of other things Horford does well offensively, including his outside shooting. He shot 38.2 percent from three-point range on 3.2 attempts per game over his three seasons in Boston. Horford won’t single-handedly replace JJ Redick’s shooting, but he’s someone who can take and make important three-point shots late in games.

Playing at power forward next to Embiid, Horford should thrive at times in the post. Though Brett Brown might be wise to isolate Horford down low against certain matchups and spread the floor with outlets that Horford can find in case of a double team, Horford often won’t need a set play. 

He identifies his advantage, takes his time and scores on Tobias Harris on this play from Feb. 12. The Sixers will aim to find a balance between feeding Embiid in the post and giving Horford the freedom to capitalize on these type of opportunities.

When Embiid sits and Horford takes over at center, Horford will typically have a quickness edge on his matchup. His skill as a shooter forces centers to stretch behind the arc to defend him. For big men like Amir Johnson, that tends to be a problem. 

Defense: Inside ability, a perimeter concern

Sixers fans know all about Horford’s interior defense. The concepts of anticipating favored moves and holding your ground without fouling sound easy enough, but few players could do both against Embiid.

Note how Horford sticks his chest in Embiid’s air space while keeping his hands away from trouble when Embiid searches for contact on the two plays below.

Whether Horford can guard certain power forwards on the perimeter is a fair concern, and you’d figure it’s a matchup many teams will target against the Sixers’ gargantuan starting lineup

Harris gets the better of Horford on the play below, clearing out a side of the floor and driving by him to the rim.

Horford should often have Embiid behind him protecting the rim in such situations, giving him some formidable insurance. 

In the pick-and-roll, Horford will be a major upgrade over any backup center option the Sixers had in 2018-19.

With Jaylen Brown caught on top of Boban Marjanovic’s screen here, Horford drops back to corral Harris without sagging too far. He funnels Harris into the type of long, contested two-point shot that the Sixers’ defense wants opponents to take. 

The Sixers will have some interesting scheme decisions to make regarding their pick-and-roll defense when Horford is at power forward. Switching automatically one through three, dropping Embiid on pick-and-rolls that involve the five and allowing Horford to call out his own coverage is one option that could be sensible against many teams. 

Horford will, of course, need to learn the Sixers’ defensive principles and terminology, but having a very intelligent player helping to dictate the team’s pick-and-roll defense is an idea that makes sense on its face. 

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Sixers sign and then waive Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris for purpose of adding them to Delaware Blue Coats

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Sixers sign and then waive Shizz Alston Jr., Terry Harris for purpose of adding them to Delaware Blue Coats

Updated: 2:27 p.m.

The 2019-20 Delaware Blue Coats are shaping up to be a fascinating team.

The Sixers are signing and then waiving Terry Harris, Shizz Alston Jr., Julian Washburn, Jared Brownridge and Xavier Munford with the purpose of adding them to the Blue Coats. Harris' deal is an Exhibit 9 contract.

Terry Harris is the younger brother of Sixers forward Tobias Harris, whom the team re-signed to a five-year, $180 million contract this summer. Terry played for the Sixers this year in summer league and scored nine points in three games. The 6-foot-6 wing worked out with the Sixers in June and said "it would be a blessing" to play with Tobias for the first time since eighth grade. As a redshirt senior at North Carolina A&T, Terry averaged 8.1 points per game and shot 41.1 percent from three-point range. Outside shooting is his trademark skill.

Alston grew up in Philadelphia and attended The Haverford School before going to Temple, where he played for four years. The point guard had an excellent senior season, leading Temple to a 23-10 record and averaging 19.7 points and 5.0 assists per game. Like Harris, he had a pre-draft workout for the Sixers. Alston played with the Indiana Pacers in summer league and scored 24 points across three contests.

The 6-foot-8 Washburn has 136 career games of experience in the G League, including 38 last season between the Austin Spurs and Memphis Hustle. He signed a two-way contract with the Grizzlies in January and appeared in 18 NBA games last year, averaging 2.2 points and 2.3 rebounds. Washburn was part of the trade between the Grizzlies and Warriors in July involving Andre Iguodala, and was later waived by Golden State.

Brownridge, who played his college ball at Santa Clara, played 49 games (27 starts) with the Blue Coats last season. He led the G-League in threes made with 187.

Munford spent last season with the Milwaukee Bucks G-League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd. He's also played in China and Spain after his collegiate career at Rhode Island ended.

In addition to Washburn, Alston, Harris, Brownridge and Munford, 7-foot-3 Christ Koumadje, Saint Joseph's product Isaiah Miles and Haywood Highsmith are candidates for the Blue Coats this season. Those three players were part of the Sixers' preseason roster and will be waived (see story).

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Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Sixers waive Christ Koumadje, Haywood Highsmith and Isaiah Miles

Updated: 2:17 p.m.

The Sixers have waived Christ Koumadje, Isaiah Miles and Haywood Highsmith. Those moves leave the team with its regular-season roster of 15 players, with Marial Shayok and Norvel Pelle on two-way contracts.

Because Koumadje, Miles and Highsmith signed Exhibit 10 contracts this summer, they can be incentivized to join the Delaware Blue Coats. Under the terms of an Exhibit 10 deal, a player who is waived can receive a bonus of up to $50,000 if he signs with the team's G-League affiliate and stays there for at least 60 days. 

Koumadje played four years of college basketball at Florida State and stands 7-foot-3 without shoes. He’s seeking to become the first NBA player from the country of Chad. Senior vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said in June at a pre-draft workout featuring Koumadje that the big man is agile for his size, which Koumadje attributed to playing soccer and running before fully focusing on basketball.

Koumadje has been seen working on his game with 7-foot-2 player development specialist Roy Hibbert. He said at media day that the Sixers’ player development staff has been helping him develop some of the finer points of his offensive game, such as non-dunk finishes near the basket and ball handling.

A 6-foot-4 wing, Highsmith played in 46 games for the Blue Coats last season, averaging 12.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He also played in five games for the Sixers, with the team converting his contract to a two-way deal in January. Highsmith, who was waived by the team this summer to free up the two-way spot used on Pelle before signing his Exhibit 10 deal, played at Division II Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

Miles played his college basketball much closer to the Wells Fargo Center, at Saint Joseph’s, and is, like Highsmith, a native of Baltimore, Maryland. The 25-year-old was on the Sixers’ summer league teams in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and last played for Limoges CSP in France’s Pro-A league.

Based on what we saw in the preseason, below is a rough, projected depth chart by position. The backup point guard picture isn't yet clear, while several of the players at the shooting guard and small forward spots are interchangeable:

Point guard

Starter: Ben Simmons

Depth: Josh Richardson, Raul Neto/Trey Burke, Shake Milton

Shooting guard

Starter: Josh Richardson

Depth: Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Shake Milton, Zhaire Smith, Marial Shayok (Two-way player)

Small forward

Starter: Tobias Harris

Depth: James Ennis, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz

Power forward

Starter: Al Horford 

Depth: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Jonah Bolden 


Starter: Joel Embiid

Depth: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Jonah Bolden, Ben Simmons, Mike Scott, Norvel Pelle (Two-way player) 

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