Before the 76ers began their restart, there was a question as to how Al Horford would fit into the team. He was taken out of the starting lineup in place of Shake Milton, with Ben Simmons moving to power forward.
That seems like such a long time ago, and not just five games. That’s because Simmons is out. He had surgery Monday morning to remove the loose body in his left knee.
In addition, Joel Embiid suffered a game-ending twisted left ankle injury during the first quarter of Sunday’s 124-121 loss to Portland. He will not play in Tuesday’s game against the sizzling Phoenix Suns, who are 6-0 during the NBA restart.
Even assuming that Embiid is ready to go in the playoffs, nobody on the Sixers has close to the postseason experience of Horford. In the playoffs that counts for a lot.
Coach Brett Brown has said he wants a nine-man rotation, and leaving Simmons out of the conversation, Horford has more playoff experience than everybody else combined.
Total playoff games: Al Horford 120, the rest of the Sixers’ projected rotation 84
Here is the breakdown:
Even if Mike Scott, with 48 playoff games, is added, then the nine players have 132 playoff games or just 12 more than Horford.
For all the talk before the NBA restart about the Sixers having a chance to make a mark in the playoffs, they really have a relatively inexperienced team when it comes to the postseason. Experience means so much in the playoffs, but only if the players with that experience can still play.
Horford, who turned 34 in June, can still play, not at the level that has made him a five-time All-Star, but there are still parts to his game that can really help a team in the postseason.
Just look at the five games in the bubble. He didn’t play great in the opening 127-121 loss to Indiana, posting a minus-26 rating in only 23 minutes.
In the other four games he is a plus-32.
While it’s not advisable to depend on Horford as a three-point shooter in large doses, he has hit 6 of 11 in the five games and overall is 23-for-42 (54.7%) from the field.
Against Portland, he had a strange game, with foul trouble limiting him to just 22 minutes, 22 seconds of action. Yet in that time he scored 15 points, making 3 of 4 threes, and had five assists, but also four turnovers. A little up and down, but the good outdid the bad.
The spacing issue he had with Embiid for most of the season has improved, with the two often taking turns playing a high-low role.
“Sometimes he is low and sometimes he is high and vice versa and we are figuring it out,” Horford said late last week.
Horford is still a better post defender rather than chasing some of the quicker power forwards around the court, but he is overall solid defensively. This season, according to Basketball-Reference.com, he is 37th in the NBA in defensive win shares (2.6). Defensive win shares are an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense.
Besides all of Horford’s experience, Brown thinks there is another key ingredient that he adds.
“There is just a physical presence he brings to the group,” Brown said.