As Al Horford goes, so go the Sixers. That’s been one of the storylines of the first couple months of the NBA season. In the eight games that the Sixers’ new four-man has scored at least 15 points, they are 7-1. In the 10 games in which he’s scored under 15, they are 5-5.
The Sixers didn’t sign Horford to be a primary scoring option. But the first quarter of their 103-94 win over the Jazz on Monday night was a good example of how much better their half court offense looks when he plays a central role. Horford was very much the catalyst of an opening period that saw the Sixers race out to a 31-23 lead. In addition to draining a couple of three-pointers -- one of them when he was left alone as a trailer following the offense after inbounding the ball to Ben Simmons -- he grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds that led to five Sixers points, including a kick-out to Furkan Korkmaz for an open three-pointer. Horford finished the opening period with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
For context, consider Horford’s performance in the Sixers’ 106-104 loss to the Jazz in Utah back on Nov. 6. That night, Horford scored just seven points, shooting 3-of-14 from the field and 1-for-4 from three. The Sixers were outscored by 11 points in his 28 minutes of action.
A few other takeaways on a night where the Sixers improved to 15-7. . .
1) Matisse Thybulle continues to knock down the shots that the Sixers need him to knock down. Midway through the second quarter he had an open catch-and-shoot corner three off a kick-out from Simmons that gave the Sixers a 43-27 lead. Later in the period, he drained another one, this time off a pass from Joel Embiid. On the defensive end, he was his usual active self, the highlight coming late in the second quarter when he poked away a steal in the backcourt and then lobbed an alley-oop to Simmons for a thunderous dunk.
Without a doubt, it was Thybulle’s defense that prompted Brett Brown to stick him on the court with the first unit to open the second half (Furkan Korkmaz started the game in place of the injured Josh Richardson). But he continues to look more comfortable on the offensive end, and his success knocking down the smattering of open looks that he gets bodes well for the Sixers as they look toward the future. Against the Jazz, Thybulle sank all three of his attempts from long distance.
Since starting the season 5-for-21, Thybulle is 11-for-16 from three-point range over his last 12 games. That’s quite good.
2) As the Jazz made a late run down the stretch, they packing the paint against the Sixers in the halfcourt, playing as far off of Ben Simmons at the top of the offense as I can remember a team playing here lately. There were several possessions where Royce O’Neal was in the bottom half of the foul circle as Simmons was dribbling at the top of the arc. Needless to say, Simmons did not even look to shoot. These are the sorts of possession that should cause you to sympathize with Brett Brown: its a conundrum whose only obvious answer is for Simmons to shoot.
3) That being said. . .Donovan Mitchell once again gave Sixers fans a reminder that you’d much rather have a point guard who doesn’t take enough shots than one who takes too many. No doubt, Simmons will need to expand his offensive game if hopes to become one of the game’s elite scorers, and for the Sixers’ offense to reach its full potential. But the upside of the efficiency of his game is impossible to ignore when you contrast it with a player like Mitchell.