After two straight years of anticipating fireworks, Boston Celtics fans finally got what Danny Ainge had been promising through all the rumors, speculation and overriding disappointment. After the countless reports of players joining the Celtics, ranging from Kevin Love, to Jimmy Butler and Boogie Cousins, Celtics fans have gotten their hopes up far too often over the past two years, just to be let down again.
Well, on Saturday, the wait for the massive talent upgrade the entire Celtics community had been waiting for, finally came to a close with the signing of all-star big man, Al Horford. While not an out and out 'superstar' -- something the Celtics still desperately lack and will hope to gain by signing Kevin Durant -- Al Horford fills a lot of the wholes and needs that became the downfall of the Celtics against Horford's Hawks, with quality that isn't found in very many NBA players whatsoever.
Last season, Horford averaged an unspectacular 15 points and 7 rebounds. A casual fan would criticize the max deal that we gave him because of this. But his game isn't based around numbers, he was on a Hawks team that obstructed him from inflating those numbers and the needs that he fills on the Celtics, are far more important than empty, meaningless stats.
On that Hawks team, he was put in an offense where no one player was able to shine. They spread the ball around in their motion offense beautifully, meaning Horford wasn't a go-to-guy or anything like that. Instead of being a dominant scorer, Horford was better utilized as a stretch big, to create space for his guards, with an excellent passing game and mobility to take smaller dudes off the dribble and the body to post up a smaller defender should a switch present itself. As for his 7 rebounds per game, the numbers for that don't take into account Horford's diligent boxing out for other teammates to swoop in and grab rebounds, as he's perfectly happy to let someone else grab the board. Horford isn't going to wrestle a rebound off of another teammate just to inflate his stats, he's going to do what's best for the team and that is something that is 10 times more valuable than basic stats.
Horford's $113 million contract is big, but for a Celtics team that lacked a two-way big for the entirety of last season, just getting that alone would be worth the 9 digit sum they'll be dishing out to him for the next 4 years. The Celtics had a big man rotation of pure specialists last season. Kelly Olynyk is a pure shooter, Amir Johnson doesn't offer much offensively, Tyler Zeller's defensive game leaves much to be desired and Jared Sullinger's lack of versatility is part of the reason the Celtics got knocked out during the playoffs. In fact, Jonas Jerebko was probably the only guy on last season's roster that could be considered a two-way big man and he wasn't fully utilized until game 3 of the playoffs. The Horford signing finally brings someone in the frontcourt who can both shoot and score, as well as being able to defend the best players in the world on a nightly basis.
On offense, Horford will help the Celtics' floor spacing which leaves much to be desired. Last year, Boston took the 11th most 3s in the whole league, but made them at the 28th best rate. Horford, who has improved every year with his jump shot, made 88 threes last season. His signing will bolster this part of the offense immediately. Then there's the idea that Horford will be taking Jared Sullinger's spot in the offense, a role that landed Sullinger open jump shot after open jump shot. Sullinger took quite a lot of these, but didn't make them at a high rate at all. He made less than 40% of his mid-range attempts and less than 30% of his mid-range shots, according to basketball-reference. If you stick Horford in the same role that generated Sullinger these open looks, the Celtics' offense will be on the upswing in no time. Last year, Horford made a hair less than 50% of his mid-range looks and 35% of his triples. If Brad Stevens is able to get Horford even remotely the same looks, the Celtics will be in great shape.
Defensively, Horford adds rim protection and mobility that was only present when the offensively impaired Amir Johnson was on the floor. Horford, along with Paul Millsap, anchored the 2nd most efficient defense in the league in 2015-16, and is now moving to the 6th most efficient defensive team. With a true backbone in Horford set up, the Celtics pesky perimeter defenders who were among the best in the league, can afford to be even more aggressive than last season, knowing full well that if they get beaten, the great wall of Al Horford will be waiting at the rim. They will be even more aggressive than last season, where they forced the most turnovers per game throughout the entire league.
Horford's mobility and ability to switch, is incredibly useful to anyone in the modern NBA too. When the Celtics go to lineups with 4 smalls around Horford -- their typical crunch-time grouping -- the Celtics will be able to switch basically everything on the floor with ease, a common defensive strategy that is extremely effective with the right personnel. With Horford, the Celtics don't only have the right personnel, they have the perfect personnel.
Brad Stevens' system will be perfect for Horford's game. In many ways, Stevens and Budenholzer are very similar coaches. They both emphasize ball-movement, pace-and-space and unselfishness. Horford will slot in, playing a very similar role to the one he was playing in Atlanta. Where he will add sneaky value, much like he did in the ATL, is as a distributor. Last season, Horford juiced up the Hawks' offense to new heights when he was used as the pivot-point in the offense, with his great passing knack and instincts.
Where Horford adds a lot of his value in Boston though, is with the image of the franchise. Up until now, the Celtics were known as a team that held every asset in the world, but had nothing to show for it. Now, we have two all-stars, one of the best coaches/front-offices in the league and a bench filled with some of the better role players in the league. We now have every piece we need to become real contenders, except for a go-to superstar. Now that Kevin Durant has seen our pitch (read my pitch to KD here) and seems to be seriously considering the Celtics as a real destination, maybe the addition of Horford pushes him over the edge. Especially since we now have Horford and have the ability to trade for just about any second-tier star player in the league, the Celtics are now a real destination for every NBA free agent for years to come, not just Durant.
The great thing is, if the Durant master plan fails to come to fruition, the Celtics still should be the second best team in the East, with the addition of Horford. We would love to have KD, but should we not get him, we can remain competitive this season and go hunting for superstars in the loaded 2017 class.
Horford and the Celtics are truly, a match made in heaven.
On to banner 18!
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