The big news during the week as the 76ers have practiced in the NBA bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando, Fla., has been the role of Ben Simmons, which will directly impact the role of Al Horford.
Coach Brett Brown said Monday that Simmons had played exclusively at power forward during the first two days of practice. The next day, Brown said that Simmons is playing a variety of positions, moving all over the place.
Either way, if Simmons is playing more in the frontcourt and Shake Milton moves to the starting lineup at point guard, then Al Horford is expected to come off the bench.
It’s obvious that the pairing of Joel Embiid and Horford hasn’t worked. Both are more effective down in the blocks and there isn’t enough room for both to operate down there consistently.
Embiid and Horford will still be on the court together, but it likely won’t be in the starting lineup. Horford will prepare for a role he hasn’t done very much.
During his rookie year in Atlanta (2007-08), Horford came off the bench in four of 81 games. Since then, the five-time All-Star had started every game until Brown moved him to the bench on Feb. 11, the final game before the All-Star break when the Sixers beat the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. Horford was also a reserve in both an overtime home win over Brooklyn and a loss in Milwaukee.
In that game against the Bucks, Simmons suffered a pinched nerve in his lower back and would miss the next eight games leading up to the NBA suspending the season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Simmons is back and says he is feeling great.
Horford started all eight games in Simmons’ absence.
While three games as a reserve is a small sample, one statistic is glaring – Horford’s three-point attempt rate, which is the percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range. In those three games, Horford averaged 23.7 minutes but took a total of just 16 shots. He was 2-for-10 from three-point range, and his three-point attempt rate was 62.5%.
Already this season Horford has his highest career three-point attempt rate (40.4%). In essence, he has become a three-point-shooting power forward.
This season he is shooting 33.7% from beyond the arc. The NBA average is 35.7%. In 60 games, he has already attempted a career-high 264 three-pointers.
If Brown gets his way, Embiid could be on the court more than he has in his career. In May, Brown suggested that he would like Embiid to play up to 38 minutes a game during the postseason.
When asked about it again this week, he didn’t back down.
“I hope he can attain that number that I said,” Brown said. “I hope I can keep him somewhere in that range, you know 38 is probably ambitious but I said it, I’ll own it, I stand by it.”
The most minutes Embiid has averaged in a regular season is 33.7 in 2018-19. The most he has in a playoff is 34.8 during eight 2018 postseason games.
If Embiid is going to near the 38-minute mark, it would mean even fewer minutes by Horford.
Then again, that might not be a bad thing. Horford, who turned 34 in June, said that during the time off, his body had healed.
When asked about his health before the season was shut down, Horford admitted he wasn’t 100%.
“I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be,” he said before the Sixers departed for Florida last week.
Horford has skirted the issue of whether he would like to remain in the starting lineup.
During the first few days of practice, the Sixers have raved about Horford’s leadership.