Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford should be the sixth man

Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers should consider a lineup change.

When the Philadelphia 76ers signed Al Horford to a four-year, $109 million contract this summer, it was clear why. He was the best insurance policy for Joel Embiid money could buy, and, after last year’s playoffs, it was clear that the Sixers desperately needed a man of Horford’s talents.

However, there were obvious concerns about Horford’s fit in the offense, especially next to players like Embiid and Ben Simmons, who both take the majority of their shots within the paint. Horford knew when he signed that he would be taking more three-point shots than he is used to and, although he is a career above-average shooter, his ability to shoot well with volume was in question. The investment was a risky one, and, so far, results are mixed.

In Embiid’s absence, Horford has proven himself to be the backup center for which Philadelphia has yearned. When Horford is on the floor without Embiid, the Sixers average around the same amount of points as when Embiid is on without Horford and boast a 5.6 plus/minus, per 100 possessions. For Horford, he averages 24.8 points per 100 possessions with Embiid off the floor, as well as higher field goal percentages across the board.

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But, things are much different when the two big men are on the court at the same time. The Sixers average eight fewer points per 100 possessions when Embiid and Horford share the court than when Embiid is on without Horford. Embiid’s stats are also much higher without Horford on, and it is clear that Embiid has a harder time scoring when the two share the court.

The numbers when Embiid and Horford share the court are alarming, and Horford’s lackluster play over the past few weeks have sparked a desire in many fans to trade Horford. While their fit together is still a tight one, it is by no means a reason to trade Horford. Yes, both player’s numbers decrease when they share the court, but Horford has proven his value without Embiid. Instead of trading Horford for Chris Paul, for example, Brett Brown should move Horford to the bench.

Most of the issues that hound Horford’s stay in Philadelphia has been his play with Embiid. So, Coach Brown should look to reduce the time the two are on the floor together as much as possible. The big men already have their minutes staggered, but they shouldn’t be on the floor together at all, as recent returns have shown. When Horford shares the floor with Embiid, he’s hindered to what he can do, and the offense with Embiid on the floor does not utilize Horford’s strengths well.

Horford should be relegated to a sixth-man role, and, when he’s on the court, the offense should feature pick and rolls, at which Horford excels. Lineups with Horford should include excellent pick and roll ball handlers — like Tobias Harris, Trey Burke, and Josh Richardson — and perhaps another good screener, like Ben Simmons. This way, Horford is in a situation where he can excel and is not crowding the floor with another big man he doesn’t gel with offensively.

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With Embiid set to miss time with a torn ligament in his finger, trading Horford would be nonsensical. However, when Embiid returns, Horford should become the Sixers’ sixth-man. In this role, Horford would occupy a role that maximizes his effectiveness and sees him share the court with Embiid for a minimal amount of time. He would still provide excellent defense and smart all-around play from the bench and would ensure the Sixers do not flounder without Embiid.