A few weeks ago, when the Sixers played the Suns, rookie Matisse Thybulle got in early foul trouble.
Frustrated, Thybulle sought out 13-year veteran Al Horford.
“What do you see? What do you feel?,” Horford asked the rookie before chatting up the officials.
Thybulle felt like he couldn’t touch anyone without getting a foul called.
So Horford, who’s built a respected relationship with the officials over the course of his 13 years in the league, asked the referee what he saw.
“Your elbow was too high,” Horford reported back, after Thybulle was called for an offensive foul, fighting for positioning with Ricky Rubio.
“Without him, I really wouldn’t have gotten any of that feedback,” an appreciative Thybulle said. “It’s been really cool for him to take on that role.”
This is just one of the countless intangibles Horford has already imparted on this Sixers squad.
Whether it’s singling out Tobias Harris for the way that he ran and spaced, allowing for Ben Simmons to get downhill and score a layup or pointing out an extra pass or box out from Raul Neto, Horford sees the importance in bringing attention to the little things that allow for a good team to develop into a great one.
“Little things like that go a long way to let guys know that what they are doing is not necessarily for just them, but the whole group,” Harris said.
“That’s important because it makes people want to do the small things,” Josh Richardson said.
And one of the reasons that Horford is able to point out the little things is because of the knowledge he has of every position on the court, not just his.
“He’s so knowledgeable of the game and where everyone is and needs to be,” Harris said.
“He knows what I can do, what James (Ennis III) can do,” Furkan Korkmaz said. “It’s why he has a different feeling in the game. He can read his teammates well.”
“Since he’s got here, I’ve noticed, off the bat, how good of a mind he is. He really thinks the game,” Richardson said.
“He’s able to help everybody,” Kyle O’Quinn said. “He even helps [head coach Brett Brown] sometimes. We’re all lucky to have him around.”
Speaking of Brown, he’s far from shy when it comes to bragging about what the Sixers stole from the Boston Celtics, but it’s about much more than Horford’s talent on the court.
“He’s completely comfortable in his own skin,” Brown said. “When we have team meetings that are private, he can speak his piece. He doesn’t feel like he’s throwing anyone under the bus. He delivers it with a proper respect and tone, includes himself in stuff.”
“He’ll jump in and give advice to everyone,” Thybulle said. “He’ll go down the line and just knock down people, of what he thinks could help them or how they could help the team in different ways.”
That also goes for timeouts. Up or down, good or bad, Horford’s voice has been a constant.
“He really goes out of his way, especially in timeouts, if there’s things that he sees, and he is a very detailed person.” Harris said. “It’s easy to communicate in timeouts when things are good, but when things aren’t good he’s always the guy to add in some positive way to get that going. He’s really been big at that.”
“Al's a veteran's vet. You can't really ask for a better leader for a team,” Richardson said. “He's always level-headed. He's fired up when he needs to be, but usually he just keeps it to a tone that everybody can relate to.”
“He’s a tremendous compass in the locker room, as it relates to what is our true north. He gets what’s most important at this stage,” Brown said.
Above all else, Horford sets an example for others to follow.
“He’s just a real role model, in terms of how he lives his life,” Harris said. “There’s no real ups and downs with him. In my opinion, he’s the definition of a consistent person — comes in everyday, same attitude, same spirit, win or loss. The way he shapes his day-to-day life is inspiring for real.”
“We were on the plane one day, all talking and Kyle (O’Quinn) said something like ‘When God made you, he like really took his time, I’m going to make somebody really good at life,’” Harris recalled laughing. “And we were all cracking up, but were like actually, that is really true.”
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