Last year I went on one of those Disney Cruises and one of the shows on the ship was called The Golden Mickeys. The gist of this cheesy but fun production was that there’s an award show on the ship but the Captain isn’t available to present the awards. So the crew member in charge of producing the show (Ensign Benson) is thrust into the spotlight. As you can imagine, she is timid at first, but she knows her stuff so well that by the end she’s putting on a tremendous show.
Which brings me to Al Horford. Pick your overused cliche: Glue guy, veteran leader, Mr. Intangibles, Swiss Army Knife, they all fit and yet don’t do him justice at the same time. That’s why I gravitate towards “superstar role player.” He’s not elite at any single skill (except perhaps defense) but his mastery of so many skills is in itself an elite quality. He’s simply not your stereotypical star player.
I’m not even going to bother defending his contract because I’ve done that SO MUCH on this blog. I’m just going to point out that Horford is a perfect fit for what the Celtics want to build and do on the court. In particular when the team is at full strength.
Ahh, there’s the rub. The team is far from full strength. The tent poles have been knocked down and the canopy is being held up by one adult and a bunch of kids. Or put another way, the Captains are missing (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) and Ensign Benson is left to put on the show herself.
Al Horford isn’t timid at all, but “the right basketball play” is far more important to him than the spotlight. When he’s operating at the top of the key in the triple threat position, if he sees Semi Ojeleye open in the corner, he’s making that pass. On any given play, that’s the right decision.
The problem is that sometimes just making the right play isn’t enough. In particular in big moments like the playoffs, young and inexperienced players don’t always make the shots they normally would (in particular on the road). Sometimes you need someone to step forward and make a play by the sheer force of their will.
In those moments, a contested shot from Al Horford is a better play than an open shot by a rookie. Theoretically I think Al understands that, but it isn’t easy to alter years of split second decision making habits.
The young guys are going to make their fair share of plays. They will have to. Jayson Tatum is wired to take a lead role, he just needs to grow into it. Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier III are willfully ignorant of the meaning of the word “fear.” But they are going to need adult supervision. They need Al Horford to step forward and exert his will on offense.
That won’t always be easy in this series because Al is a critical element to slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo on the other side of the floor. He also has to play the role of de facto point guard, keeping everyone involved and in rhythm. That’s a lot to juggle and that’s why he and Brad Stevens need to be telepathically connected.
I’m excited to see how Horford performs in this postseason. The stars are missing, the curtain is up, the show must go on. Al knows all the lines, he can play every part, he just need to go out there and perform.