The Celtics are the only team in history to go on a 9 game win streak after starting the season 0-2. They currently boast the best record in the league and sit at the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Needless to say, the Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. To what do they owe their success? Well that is a number of things. Danny Ainge is looking like a genius right now trading down for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is turning out to be a stud. Those two young guys have played huge roles for them and are great future pieces for the organization moving forward. Kyrie Irving is doing what he does and helped lead this team after the Gordon Hayward injury. One player that I have become interested in this season from the Celtics is Al Horford. Horford has had a superb start to this season and his chemistry with Kyrie Irving is something not many people expected to see this early. His all around game has been a huge asset to his team and is one of the reasons they are able to be so successful. Let’s look at some of the ways Horford has impacted the Celtics’ winning season so far.
The Celtics currently have the best defense in the league and that has largely contributed to this 9 game hot streak that they are on. The Celtics are number 1 so far this season in opponent points per game at 94.5. They have great perimeter defenders such as Brown, Smart, and surprisingly Kyrie Irving, but at the center of it all, is Al Horford. Horford is the general on the defensive end of the floor and has made a strong case so far for DPOY. For the people interested in his analytics, Horford currently holds the 6th best Defensive Rating in the league at 97.3 and has a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 3.6 which is ranked 10th in the league. Horford has great defensive stats, but he hasn’t had easy competition to inflate his stats. In these first games, the Celtics have faced bigs such as Porzingis, Embiid, Giannis, Aldridge, and Vucevic. Like I said, not easy competition in the post. Along with Baynes, Horford has been the inside presence that the Celtics need. He can disrupt guards that come charging into the lane and can also make bigs take more difficult shots near the rim. His versatility allows his to help cover the PnR and make it easier on the guards knowing they have a paint presence at the rim waiting for the offensive players. Overall, Horford has played elite level defense up to their point and has been a huge asset for the Celtics to have on defense this season.
Before this season, rebounding and Al Horford were not two things that associated well together. Horford took a lot of heat last season for being a terrible rebounder and shouldered a lot of the blame in games when the Celtics were getting killed on the boards. Last season, Horford only averaged 6.8 rebounds. This season has been a completely different story as Horford is grabbing 9 boards per game. This has helped the Celtics become the 5th best rebounding team in the league, averaging 47.5 rebounds per game as a team. Horford’s rebounding is helping the team tremendously and I could see him possibly averaging a rebounding double double by the end of this season.
I am one of Al Horford’s biggest fans when it comes to his offensive game. I love what he brings to the offense in terms of versatility and I think he has a very high Basketball IQ. Currently he is scoring 14.6 points per game on 53% shooting. Although these are quality numbers, what I find most impressive is how well he has shot the deep ball. Horford is shooting 47% from 3 and this has been a weapon for the Celtics to use against other teams. Spacing in this league is huge and when your center can provide efficiency from deep, it makes a team all the more dangerous. Something that I noticed Horford capitalizing on in the game against the Atlanta Hawks, was when defenders would close out hard on him at the 3 point line. When the defenders were closing out hard, he was able to blow by them off the dribble and get easy buckets in the paint, get fouled, or pass to an open teammate. He also did this in the Thunder game when Melo contested hard and he was then able to pump fake and get a wide open shot from mid range to put the Celtics up by 6 late in the game. His efficiency from deep means teams must respect him and that opens up the drive and will allow him to decide from there what the right play is.
The most underrated part of Horford’s game in my opinion is his passing. Horford is one of the elite passing big men we have in this league as he is averaging 4.7 assists this season so far. The Celtics use him on the block and run screens to the wing and cuts down the middle of the lane which allow him to showcase his passing in that way. He also is a great passer off the dribble and can easily find open men off back door cuts, spot up shooters, or find the open man when he takes the ball coast to coast after rebounding. I have watched the Celtics a lot this year and Horford is one of my favorite players to watch on offense. He may not be flashy, but his IQ is high and he is able to make a lot of guard type plays that some centers can’t make. His contributions to his team this year should not go unnoticed because he is one of the main reasons why they continue to succeed.