Are the Sixers and Al Horford actually ‘built for the playoffs'?


Al Horford’s first season as a Sixer has featured a few lowlights.

There have been several sequences like the one below, in which Horford fails to box out Derrick Jones Jr., lets Jimmy Butler jump in front of him to snag the loose ball Joel Embiid saved and, after a clap of frustration, runs out toward Butler and watches him sink a corner three. 

A primary problem has been the offensive performance of the Horford-Embiid pairing. The Sixers have a 100.6 offensive rating when the tandem is on the floor together, three points worse than any Sixers duo with at least 300 minutes played. When you add Ben Simmons to the Horford-Embiid combination, the team's offensive rating drops to a dismal 98.8. For context, the Warriors have the lowest offensive rating in the NBA this year at 104.4. 

When those three have had success with each other offensively, it’s often been inelegant. On this play against the Heat, Embiid tussles with Meyers Leonard as he moves to set a cross screen for Simmons. When Leonard gets tripped up in the midst of the shoving, Horford finds an open Embiid. 

That’s a great result, and Horford can indeed be a threat from the high post as a passer, but this kind of pure “bully ball” is not very dependable offense. 

In theory, making open shots in the flow of the offense is a more viable concept. Venturing out to three-point range more than he ever has, Horford is shooting 33.7 percent from long distance, which would be his worst mark since the 2014-15 season. On wide-open threes, he’s at just 35.6 percent.

Those numbers did bump up to 39.7 percent and 44.9 percent, respectively, over the Sixers’ last 15 games, although any momentum has been lost during a hiatus that’s now gone beyond three months. 

There’s nothing too profound to say here — Horford needs to step in, get his feet comfortably under him and trust that some of the excellent looks he’s missed this season will drop in Disney World. 

One skill of Horford’s that clearly hasn’t regressed is his passing. He's still one of the best passing centers in the NBA, not too far behind big men like Nikola Jokic, Bam Adebayo and Domantas Sabonis. Time and again, he makes a quick, smart read and leads his teammate into a good position.

Back on March 10, the day before the season was suspended, Brett Brown said he remained determined to develop the Horford-Embiid pairing. At this point, it’s very logical — self-evident, even — to say that Brown should not overdo it with that pair in the playoffs. 

Here’s a less obvious thought: The Sixers should try to play Horford more with Furkan Korkmaz. 

The 22-year-old Korkmaz and 34-year-old Horford have been somewhat of an odd couple, always eager to praise and support the other. They’ve also excelled on the court together. Out of every two-man lineup including Horford with at least 400 minutes, the Sixers' offensive rating (110.7) and net rating (plus-5.7) is best with the Horford-Korkmaz duo on the court. The two have played about 13.1 minutes per game together. 

On this play, Korkmaz happens to be the open man in the corner when Kyle Lowry scrambles out to Horford.

And on this sequence in Sacramento, a Horford-Korkmaz dribble handoff eventually leads into an isolation opportunity for Horford and basket against Alex Len.

Brown has insisted throughout this season that the Sixers are “built for the playoffs,” and Horford’s presence has been a big part of his reasoning. Perhaps more minutes with Korkmaz, a player with minimal postseason experience, can help him play at a higher level in Orlando. 

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