MIAMI — Al Horford was one of this summer’s marquee free-agent signees.
His addition made the 76ers a preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA title next season.
The Sixers got the five-time All-Star to start at power forward alongside two-time All-Star Joel Embiid. Horford also slides to center on the nights when Embiid sits out.
But they’ve haven’t come close to being a dynamic duo. It’s been more like the league’s best center being paired with a role-playing power forward.
“It’s not as good as I want to be,” Horford said Monday of his season. “I still haven’t been able to find my rhythm with the team.”
That’s an understatement.
Horford is averaging 12.6 points, his fewest since averaging 12.4 during the 2011-12 season. His shooting percentage (46.0) and rebounds per game (6.6) are the lowest of his 13-year career. And he has the worst free-throw percentage (69.2) over a six-season stretch.
One could argue that his shooting percentage is a result of the lack of rhythm.
Often times, players settle for bad shots when they’re not a part of the offensive game plan. They do that because they’re not sure when the next scoring opportunity will come.
But those aren’t the numbers one would expect from a player who signed a four-year, $97 million contract. He has been relegated to role-player status in a starting lineup that includes small forward Tobias Harris, shooting guard Josh Richardson, and All-Star point guard Ben Simmons.
Horford does, however, have a larger role when Embiid doesn’t play. Horford averaged 18.6 points in the six games the center missed.
“Joel and Tobias [Harris] have kind of been like the guys that have been getting most of the shots,” coach Brett Brown said. “Ben has the ball. So J-Rich is figuring stuff out and Al is figuring stuff out.”
Embiid averages a team-leading 16.2 shots per game while Harris averages 15.9. Richardson is third on the team at 12.7 followed by Horford (11.3) and Simmons (10.5).
So playing alongside Embiid hasn’t provided the opportunity to show why Horford has garnered multiple All-Star appearances.
“I’m out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us,” Horford said. “But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff.
“So all I have to do is make sure I’m there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win.”
Horford continues to work hard. He does whatever Brown tells him while trying to help the group. That’s all he can do.
“Ultimately, we have to rely on [Brown] to make the decisions,” Horford said, “to put us in position to go out there and play and keep competing.”
Brown said he’s always asking how he can help Horford.
“I’m not critical of Al Horford at all. I’m more curious about what I can do to help him," Brown said. "A lot of times it comes back to the environment that he’s in. …. Everybody has to deal with level of sacrifice and role recognition.”
But Brown wants to get him more opportunities in the pick-and-roll.
Noting that it’s only December, Horford hopes to find more of a rhythm in regards to offensive involvement.
“It’s always an adjustment period when you are with a new team,” Horford said. “Things don’t necessarily click how you want them to. It’s just a different challenge.”