76ers: Could Horford be headed to bench?
Brett Brown’s decision-making process revolves around helping the 76ers, as well as his individual players.
With that in mind, given how the season is going and the Sixers’ opponent Tuesday night, don’t be surprised if Brown tries Al Horford coming off the bench against the Clippers.
The way Doc Rivers likes to go small with three guards and recent trade acquisition Marcus Morris at power forward isn’t an ideal matchup for Horford.
The Sixers also have a plethora of wings in the wake of trading for Glenn Robinson III and Alex Burks last Thursday, and would benefit from getting more of them on the floor.
Throw in that Horford has struggled, especially on the offensive end, starting at power forward opposite star center Joel Embiid this season and the move makes sense.
“(Tuesday) night, there is a small-ball problem that we have on immediately matching up with them,” said Brown during a 1-on-1 interview after Monday’s practice. “Your point (the idea of bringing Horford off the bench) is fair and maybe timely.”
Embiid and Horford are natural centers and most effective in the low post, but making it work together means one of them – generally Horford – plays on the high post or at the 3-point line.
The 34-year-old Horford has been inconsistent, highlighted by going scoreless for the first time in his 835-game NBA career during Sunday night’s 118-111 victory over the Bulls. He missed all six of his field goal attempts in his 49th start of the season.
The numbers show the difference between Horford a year ago when he played mostly center with the Celtics and this season as a Sixer.
Horford’s field goal percentage has dropped from 55.3 to 43.8, with his 2-point attempts slipping from 58.6 to 50.3% and his scoring decreasing from 13.6 points to 12.1 despite playing 1.9 more minutes in 2019-20.
Playing alongside Embiid, the highly respected Horford, a five-time all-star selection, is taking more long 2-pointers and less 10-footers, resulting in the drop-off.
“We all get he’s Al Horford,” Brown said. “None of us should not understand what he’s capable of doing. And I’ve got to help him achieve it.”
Horford hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie season in 2007-08 with the Hawks, when he started 77 of 81 games.
Yes, the Sixers didn’t pay him a guaranteed $97 million over four years to be a bench player during his first season with the team, but if that’s best for the group, Brown should do it.
The Sixers are 33-21 and fifth in the Eastern Conference, which is a disappointment considering their high expectations. After facing L.A., they head into the all-star break, followed by the season’s final 27 games.
The Sixers need to move up to the second seed to increase their chances of making it to the conference finals – presumably against the Bucks. Going into Monday evening, they were 6 1/2 games behind the No. 2 Raptors in the East. That would seem to be a pretty steep hill to climb, but the Sixers must aggressively go after it.
Rookie Matisse Thybulle would be the most likely candidate to start in Horford’s place because of his defensive abilities and it’d allow Furkan Korkmaz, who just registered consecutive 30-point games, to continue coming off the bench.
Tobias Harris would move from starting at small forward to power forward alongside Embiid, which is his best position.
As for Horford, perhaps a reserve role in which he plays more minutes without Embiid and gets more opportunities closer to the basket would jump-start him back to being the player the Sixers need him to be.
Instead of a smaller player replacing Embiid midway through the first quarter, which is what Brown usually does, Horford could come in for Embiid at that point.
In terms of the big picture, Horford could still start against bigger teams, such as the Heat, if the matchups indicate that would be beneficial. He’d still be an important part of Brown’s rotation.
“It’s all on the table,” Brown said. “That’s the most honest I can be. It’ll play out as it plays out, but I understand – and so do you, it seems.”
Tom Moore: email@example.com; @TomMoorePhilly