In the Philadelphia 76ers’ final game before the NBA All-Star break, a victory over a Finals contender in the Los Angeles Clippers, something happened for the very first time all season: Al Horford did not start a game in which he was active.
The rotation tweak made sense from strategic standpoint. In the halfcourt, Horford, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid can get in the way of each other when all three are out there together. More simply put than that, Horford is a center and so is Joel Embiid. Moving Horford to the bench and inserting a perimeter player in Horford’s place (Furkan Korkmaz) limits the minutes overlap between Embiid and Horford, and offers Embiid and Simmons more spacing.
It was a single game (and against an opponent who is relatively small), but it worked and the team’s success forced the question as to whether the lineup change would last.
Following Wednesday’s Sixers practice, Al Horford told members of the media that “he has been told/believes he will continue to come off the bench moving forward”, according to Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice.
Horford tells reporters he has been told/believes he will continue to come off the bench moving forward— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) February 19, 2020
So why was this a question in the first place? Because Al Horford has started every. single. game. he’s played in since November 24th, 2007. While the move feels like it should have come sooner, it’s not an easy conversation for the coaching staff to have with Horford. And you have to feel for Al. From his perspective, this is a monumental shift in his NBA career. He’s handling it very well.
I think this is the correct decision for now. While Horford may not be in love with the idea, he should be able to pick apart 2nd units with ease. Joel Embiid stands to benefit by getting some more space to operate and more minutes with a compatible two-man partner in Korkmaz. All the while, the Sixers get 48 minutes of high-level center play and never have to rely on Simmons to play the five, which has not been sustainable (or even successful). This makes Kyle O’Quinn, who reportedly wants to be waived before March 1st, expendable should an enticing buyout candidate float down the Sixers’ stream.
That said, Horford’s move to the bench still may not be permanent. While he’s looked less than his former self this season, I wonder if any of that is a savvy veteran coasting his way to the playoffs. It’s only been one game with positive results and after all, we heard from a handful of reports at the Trade Deadline that the Sixers still strongly believe Horford is important to their hopes of defeating the Milwaukee Bucks on the way to an NBA Finals appearance. There could come a time when Brett Brown finds he has greater confidence in the team’s chances if Horford is starting in a given matchup or even if the 5th starter (Korkmaz, for now) fails to run away with the job.