Although Al Horford committed himself to the Boston Celtics over the summer, the four-time All-Star contemplated joining the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder would’ve had their own Big Three with Horford alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but that possibility became impossible. Durant had signed with the Golden State Warriors on July 4, and Horford inked his four-year, $113 million deal with the Celtics just four days later.
One of the reasons Horford would’ve joined Oklahoma City was Billy Donovan, who was the coach at the University of Florida during Horford’s time there.
“I didn’t say this to anybody, but I was strongly considering [OKC] and just the possibilities of playing under coach again,” said Horford to Chris Forsberg of ESPN. “Those were realistic things, but at the end of the day I made my decision to be here with Boston.”
Through 14 games with Boston this year, Horford’s production hasn’t changed much offensively, but he’s separated himself as the Celtics’ best interior defender. He’s swatting 2.4 shots per game, and his defensive rating is a team-best 105 — collectively, Boston’s defensive efficiency ranks 17th at 107.4. His blocks would tie him for third in the NBA, but Horford isn’t eligible for the leaderboard.
If he had elected to sign with the Thunder, even without Durant, Oklahoma City would be a legitimate contender and not just a team reliant on the stat-sheet-stuffing superpowers of Russell Westbrook.
There isn’t anything that Horford doesn’t do well on defense. He blocks shots, communicates, is arguably the best help defender in the league and, most importantly, he’s able to switch onto guards and hold his own on the perimeter. Oklahoma City is already one of the best defensive teams in league efficiency-wise because they have such a quick pace, and Horford would give them a third defensive anchor.
This is the best part: their lineup wouldn’t need to change.
Although Horford spends a lot of his time at center, he has all the makings of a stretch-four and has spent 14 percent of his minutes at that position, according to Basketball-Reference. It would be ill-logical to bump Steven Adams over to the four, so he’d stay in the middle.
The court would remain open for Westbrook since Horford is comfortable playing away from the basket, and he’s burying a career-high 36.7 percent of his threes. (It’s technically not the best mark of his career, but all the others years don’t have the volume of shots necessary for me to count them.) That eliminates any issues with Adams and Horford clogging up the lane, and Horford can replace Adams if Donovan wants to play a smaller lineup.
He’s an above-average roll man statistically, but he has more Versatility than Adams does since he has pick-and-pop potential.
The contrast between the two bigs would be one of the biggest in the NBA. With Adams, you have a burly seven-footer with some of the softest hands in the league who catches all of Westbrook’s wild passes before unleashing an aerial attack from down under. Horford is much different. He’s the finesse that counters the power. Defenses need to worry about his mid-range game, and he’s quick enough to get to the basket and utilize and up-and-under before finishing.
According to Synergy, Horford averages 1.12 PPP while Adams is at 1.08. Both are above the 60th percentile, though.
Enes Kanter is the best option out of that set with a staggering 1.34 PPP, and his role wouldn’t change either. Kanter has solidified himself as the Thunder’s sixth man, and he and Horford would be able to alternate who plays down low and who plays outside. Albeit, Kanter is reluctant to shoot from mid-range despite his capability.
On defense, Kanter would be able to carry on the tone that was set by the two starting bigs, and he could give maximum effort since his minutes aren’t excruciating.
If this would’ve happened, I’m confident in saying they’d have the best defense in the NBA. Moreover, they’d have another weapon on offense, and that’s their most glaring deficiency.
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