Celtics player spotlight: Can Al Horford deliver an encore performance?

A lot of things have to go right for a team to reach the NBA Finals — especially when the team is under .500 at the end of January.

For the 2021-22 Boston Celtics, that included 36-year-old Al Horford playing like a 26-year-old.

The veteran big man, whom Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens recouped in the Kemba Walker trade last June, was averaging 10.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during the regular season Boston’s frontcourt consistently present.

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But where Horford really shone was in the postseason, where he averaged nearly a double-double while logging more than 35 minutes a night. Simply put, the Celtics won’t reach the NBA Finals without Horford, who exploded in a Game 4 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and lost 26 points to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Finals.

Can the Celtics expect similar results from Horford in his 16th NBA season? We begin our Celtics Offseason Player Spotlight series with a look at Boston’s oldest statesman.

Horford’s stats 2021-22

  • Regular Season: 10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.3 bpg, 46.7 percent FG, 33.6 percent 3PT (69 games)
  • Postseason: 12.0 pgg, 9.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 bpg, 52.3 percent FG, 48 percent 3PT (23 games)

Horford’s contract situation

Horford is expected to earn $26.5 million in 2022-23 in the last year of a four-year, $109 million contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2023.

What role will Horford play in the 2022-23 Celtics?

Horford was among the top five starting five in the NBA in the second half of last season. So even with Danilo Gallinari and Malcolm Brogdon in the group, there’s a good chance Horford will start alongside Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams in October.

Horford’s greatest strength is his versatility: the experienced big man can blast the ground with his 3-point shot, exploit discrepancies at the post and ease on offense while holding his own on defense against wings and bigs alike.

Gallinari’s presence means head coach Ime Udoka can manage Horford’s minutes throughout the season so don’t be surprised if he occasionally misses a game. But barring injuries, expect Horford to play almost 30 minutes a night as Boston’s starting power forward.

Horford’s season will be a success if…

… He keeps drinking from the fountain of youth.

The 36-year-old was a perfect fit for this Celtics team when he was healthy – Boston went on the pitch 46-23 with Horford and 5-8 without him last season – so if he can control his body there’s no reason to think , that he can’t come up with similar numbers as last season.

Mr Big Shot

Horford’s career 3PT percentage in the postseason

The Celtics don’t need Horford to play 35 minutes a night in the regular season, especially when they add another big backup man to their roster. The best-case scenario for Boston is for a healthy Horford to enter the postseason where he can make a difference at both ends and perhaps help the Celtics return to the NBA Finals.

Biggest obstacle to Horford’s success

father time

Horford totaled nearly 3,000 minutes last season after appearing in just 27 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder rebuild in 2020-21. While the five-time All-Star takes great care of his body, there’s a real chance he’ll run out of gas toward the end of the 2022-23 season after the shortest offseason of his career.

Fatigue hampered Horford’s wide shot at times last season. So if his legs can’t keep up, his 3-point percentage could go down as well, potentially leading Udoka to give Gallinari more minutes if he wants to clear the floor.

Expected stats and predictions for Horford’s 2022-23 season

Estimated Statistics: 10.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 bpg, 45.0 percent FG, 35.0 percent 3PT (65 games)

It’s a bit unrealistic to bet on 70+ games of strong performance from Horford in his season at the age of 36, especially after the mileage he’s accumulated on his body this year. So expect slight statistical regression across the board.

Horford is entering a contract year and chasing his first ring, so he has plenty of motivation to prove he can still be a valuable piece for a championship contender.

We expect Horford to do just that, giving Boston 65 games with solid production from both ends of the parquet. Gallinari may limit his minutes when Udoka wants an offensive boost, but Horford should be one of the Celtics’ top five players next season.

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