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CelticsBlog Roundtable: where have you gone, Al Horford?

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The Celtics have won 5 of 6, but Al Horford is going through one of his worst stretches of the season. Should we be worried?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford’s value goes beyond the box score, but the Celtics are much better when he’s scoring efficiently. What is going on with his recent slump?

Bill Sy: First of all, it should be noted that while Al Horford has had a statistically tough string of games since appearing in his fifth All Star Game, Boston has won 5 of 6 with all fives wins coming in blowout fashion and the only loss being that nailbiter Saturday showcase in Houston. Horford was admittedly awful vs. the Rockets, but his recent “slump” is nothing to be concerned with.

His numbers are a little deflated because he’s played less (26.2 mpg vs. 31.6 mpg for the season), but you also have to remember that his role has changed a little since the break. With Marcus Smart back in the fold, there’s a little less playmaking on Al’s plate. He’s still operating on the high block and off DHO’s, but a lot of his touches have come off pick-and-pops-and-rolls. There’s also been the addition and assimilation of Greg Monroe. Monroe is primarily known as a back-to-the-basket post player, but he’s been very effective passing the ball in the Horford role of the 2nd unit. That’s eased the burden on Horford as previously the only passing big on the roster.

Here’s Horford’s shot chart over the last six games. If we’re nitpicking, Horford has not done well around the basket. He ranks in the 37.9 %tile in the league in post-ups; by comparison, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, and Daniel Theis are in the 93.7, 87.4, 81.1 %tiles. The Celtics don’t throw it down to him often, but if he’s got a favorable size match-up, they’ll give it to him. In Houston, he got the ball a lot and tried to take advantage, but it just wasn’t falling.

Ugh. I hated putting that clip package together because I had to see Brad Stevens calling timeout after Horford hit the floor and hurriedly coughed up the ball. Like Stevens would have been, you could tell that Mike D’Antoni was perfectly comfortable allowing Horford to go up against smaller defenders without doubling; it’s an inefficient basketball play and virtually takes the rest of the team out of the offense.

Last night in Chicago, Horford looked much more comfortable going against the rookie Lauri Markkanen:

Markkanen is a seven footer, but the 20-year-old lacks the toughness to go up against such a seasoned vet like Horford. In the first clip, you can see Horford doing most of the work before the ball even gets to him. He knows the Celtics are running some high-low action so he allows Markannen to front him, seals him on the reverse, and gets the ball deep in the paint for the layup. In the second, he bully balls him in the paint and finds Tatum on the kick out. Finally, he fakes baseline and hits Markkanen with a reverse pivot and spins for another easy bucket.

Matt Chin: I’m not worried about Al. Was he in a shooting slump before the Bulls game? Yes. But Horford is a seasoned veteran whose game is predicated on instincts and intangibles. He doesn’t need nuclear athleticism and volume scoring to make an impact, so I don’t foresee his production falling off a table.

The Celtics are winning games, and Horford has always been a winning player. I would be more concerned if he was playing this poorly and Boston was sub .500 after the All-Star break. We saw him turn it on in the playoffs last season (.655 eFG over 18 games), and I’m confident that he will find his groove when it matters.

Against the Bulls last night, he was a team-high +31, while helping to limit Boston’s pesky kryptonite Bobby Portis to a -33.

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mike DePrisco: Since coming back from the All Star break, Al Horford has shot 31% from the field, averaging 7.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and three assists. Horford’s shooting percentages are down, but 40% of his attempts are considered “wide open,” which is his highest frequency. He was a 40% three point shooter all season, so I’d expect that his shooting slump will end soon. He still makes the right plays for the Celtics with the ball in his hands, but could still be more aggressive in getting to the paint both as a passer and scorer, so if there was anything he could improve on is to focus on getting inside more. Horford went through a slump around this time last season, but as we all know he was one of the best players in the NBA down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Keith Smith: Watching the games, it just seems to be a slump. As Mike noted, he’s still getting a ton of open looks. When you consider his shooting was at the best levels of his career, by a healthy margin, some leveling off is to be expected. What hasn’t seemed to change is that he still regularly makes the right play as far as moving the ball and his defense has remained excellent. Again as Mike noted, we’d all love to see him be more aggressive at times looking for his own offense, but that isn’t his game. It never has been and never will be. Probably time to stop wishing for it to come.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Manning: I’ve said this routinely this season but it’s Al Horford who needs nights off as much as Kyrie Irving does (off last tonight vs. Chicago). Horford’s been a focal point of playmaking and especially defense since he arrived in Boston, he’s also the oldest player on the roster. Horford plays center often against bigger players, dribbles on the perimeter, posts up and helps a ton on defense. He’s not known as a bruising center but his role serves him bumps and bruises, and it’s worth noting he did say he was injured in the playoffs last season.

While it’s hard to blame the five-game slump on lack of rest after nine days off over the All Star break, Horford was in Los Angeles playing while most players were relaxing on the beach. Now more than ever with three centers in the fold, Brad Stevens could definitely give Horford a night off. It may result in a loss, but Horford’s effectiveness is as critical to a playoff run as it was last year. I can only recall one or two games this season the Celts rested Horford in, so perhaps another night off is in line.