I’m old enough to remember when Al Horford didn’t shoot 3’s.
It may be hard for younger Celtics fans to fathom, but it’s true. In his first seven seasons, he attempted a combined 29 3-pointers. Twenty-nine! It wasn’t part of his repertoire at all.
Then, in the 2014-15 season, he upped the number to 36 (whoa, slow down there, Al) but shot just 30.8 percent. That offseason, though, Horford made the conscious choice to expand his arsenal and basically reinvent his game in Year 9.
It worked wonderfully and expanded his window of effectiveness long term. The next year, he took a whopping 256 3’s. That’s like saving up your allowance and then spending it all once you’re finally able to get your ears pierced.
He shot 34.4 percent that season (respectable, but not great), then 42.9 percent in 2017-18 with the Celtics. He’s hovered in the 33-37 percent range since, until this past season, when he shot a remarkable 44.6 percent.
To call that a fluke would be unfair to Horford. It wasn’t a fluke. Al’s a sniper. He’s an elite shooter. But can he sustain that this coming season? That’s a different question.
One thing we know, barring an unexpected twist, is that he can sustain success from inside the arc. In his terrific 16-year career, Horford has never shot below 50 percent from inside the arc (54.4 percent overall).
He once attempted more than 1,000 2’s in a season, compared to just six 3’s. Somewhere, Joe Mazzulla shudders. This past year, he shot 53.9 percent from 2-point range but attempted just 2.4 shots from inside the arc in 30.5 minutes per game.
He took more than twice as many 3’s (325) as 2’s (154). Horford had a superb season, but was he too predictable? Could he be even more of a threat if he worked his same Horford magic inside as well?
Here’s both sides of the argument. You can come to your own conclusion.
Of course he should take more 2-pointers
I genuinely can’t believe I’m suggesting that a player attempt fewer 3-pointers. That’s like an effective yet inconsistent amateur drummer telling their professional pianist neighbor to turn down the music.
But hear me out. Less than three 2-point attempts is not enough. It’s just not. That means he attempted a 2 every 12.7 minutes. You could argue that Horford spends too much time on the perimeter and settles too often.
Yeah, yeah, I get it, he’s 37, and the Celtics need him healthy for the playoffs. When Horford is solely a 3-point shooter, though, the offense can at times be too predictable. If he’s the center and Jayson Tatum is at the 4, the Celtics have no real post presence.
Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others can penetrate and make plays, but last year, they didn’t have a guy who could get the ball on the block, make a quick move and finish (leave Luke Kornet out of this).
Now, in theory, Kristaps Porzingis can do so. But Porzingis is also a strong shooter. When Porzingis is on the perimeter, Horford would be more valuable in the paint and would create problems for smaller defenders. Brown, Tatum, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon can get to the rack and dish it off to Horford, and he’s always a threat to dish it back or spray it to a teammate on the wing.
Teams don’t have enough resources to worry about him down there. That’s why he gets such easy looks from outside. The Celtics are too potent offensively for teams to pay him a whole lot of attention. If that trend exists on the perimeter, it will exist in the paint as well.
No one’s asking the big man to take 1,000 2’s again, but he should take more than 154 this year. Don’t settle. Use your size to your advantage. Get buckets. There may be some misses followed by that classic Horford clap of frustration, but there will be makes. Lots of makes. Horford is very good at basketball.
No, he shouldn’t take more 2-pointers
OK, let’s play devil’s advocate here. There’s also a strong case for the argument that Horford is just fine where he is.
He shot 44.6 percent from 3 for a reason. He’s basically Steph Curry. I’m only half kidding. Wardell made just 42.7 percent of his triples. Horford is automatic, especially from the corner, so if you told me he should take even more 3’s, I wouldn’t really be able to argue.
Plus, as noted above, the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. He’s like the Vineyard Vines shirt you’ve had forever but only use on special occasions. When you bust that baby out, you’re not messing around.
As he’s gotten older, his game has evolved. He takes the opposing big out of the paint, provides room for the guards and forwards to operate and makes Mazzulla giddy with his spacing.
Stay out of it. Let the man do what he does. If he keeps shooting like that, he can do whatever he wants.
So, what do you think? You’ve heard both sides. Chances are you have some thoughts of your own. Should Horford take more 2-pointers this season or stick right around 2-3 per game?