The Washington Wizards are quickly approaching one of the most important and unpredictable summers in the history of their franchise. The team will have plenty of money to spend on talent and lots of roster spots that need to be filled,even once you factor in the max deal they'll likely offer Bradley Beal to keep him in Washington.
To help guide the process (and give us something to talk about because the Wizards don't have a draft pick this summer) we've created a list ranking the Top 30 players available, based strictly on their talent and how they would help the Wizards.
Previously, we took a look at Harrison Barnes. Now we continue our series with a look at the 4th ranked player on our list: Al Horford.
Al Horford will have many suitors in free agency. The Hawks – the only NBA team Horford has played for – will almost certainly be willing to pay to keep him, and virtually every team with max room who needs a big man is rumored to be chasing him. In fact, the Wizards have already been tied to him as a suitor this summer.
If you take a shallow look through the box score, this might seem confusing. Horford recently turned 30, and he averaged just 15.2 points (less than either Jeff Teague or Paul Millsap) on a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team that was crushed by Cleveland in the second round.
But a closer inspection reveals that while Al Horford might not stand out in any one category, he is good at nearly everything. He could fit in almost anywhere, plugging multiple holes all at once. He has a deadly midrange game and a newly emerging three-point shot. He can pass better than almost any other true big man in the league. Last season he averaged 3.6 assists to just 1.5 turnovers per 36 minutes, an assist/turnover ratio of 2.46 (for comparison, Marcin Gortat’s A/TO ratio was 0.88 last season). And despite being undersized, he manned the middle for arguably the second-best defense in the league last season.
The fact that Horford is 30 is perhaps his biggest drawback, but his finesse style of play should age well. The big man has already started to evolve his game, becoming a serious three-point threat almost out of nowhere last year. He shot 34 percent from three on a career-high 3.1 attempts (25 percent of his total shots) per game. Prior to that, he had never averaged more than 0.5 three point attempts per game, and nearly all of those shots came from the corners. As far as single-season transformations go, it's pretty remarkable. Note how his shot chart change from 2014-15 (on top) to 2015-16 (on bottom).
Being a good "stretch" big is about more than just shooting. The reason Kris Humphries struggled to transition to a stretch four role for the Wizards was not his shot, which was fine, it was deciding what to do with the ball on the perimeter when he didn’t have the shot. Horford has no such problem: He had the second-highest field goal percentage off of drives to the basket among centers (behind phenom Karl-Anthony Towns; minimum 1 drive per game), and the second-highest assist percentage off of drives (behind Boris Diaw; minimum 1 drive per game).
Does he fit with the Wizards?
Absolutely. Al Horford's versatility makes him fit pretty much anywhere, but a big man rotation of Horford, Gortat, and Markieff Morris would give the Wizards plenty of options. Horford could start at power forward next to Gortat, spacing the floor without giving up size on defense. He can also soak up some of the currently-vacant backup center minutes, and act as a second-unit playmaker if the Wizards find themselves with another shot-happy backup point guard.
His basketball IQ, passing, and ability to stretch the floor from either the power forward or center position make him an ideal pick and roll partner for Wall. And his strong midrange game allows him to be an ideal outlet around the Wall-Gortat two-man game.
Despite being undersized for a center, Horford anchored the middle for this year’s defensively elite Hawks squad, and there is no reason to think that he couldn’t do the same in Scott Brooks’ system.
What are the downsides to giving Horford a max deal?
Age aside, Horford has two main holes in his game. First, he is a fairly average post-up player. Last season he shot 47 percent on post ups on about two per game (virtually identical numbers to Gortat’s). But Horford has enough other weapons that they won’t need to lean on his post-up game.
Rebounding is also a slight concern with Horford. He averaged just 10.9 rebounds per 100 possessions last season, which is fairly low for a center. According to Nylon Calculus’s rebounding statistics (last updated on 1/25/16), Horford won just 32 percent of the contested defensive rebounds he chased (compared to 49 percent for Chris Bosh, a player whose overall profile is similar to Horford’s). The numbers are more favorable for offensive boards, where Horford won 49 percent of the rebounds he chased (the only Wizard to beat that number is John Wall, who won 50 percent of the offensive rebounds he chased).
Horford is going to command a max contract this year, and whether or not you think the Wizards should be the ones to give it to him probably depends on your team building philosophy.
On the one hand, a core of Wall, Beal, and an aging Horford isn’t necessarily going to be favored to beat Cleveland in the East or any of the powerhouses in the West. On the other hand, Horford would easily be the Wizards’ biggest free agent signing of the John Wall era, and in many ways is the perfect big man complement to Wall and Beal.
Superstars don’t grow on trees. Over the next two seasons, nearly everyone will have the cap space to add max players, and should a star come available for trade the Wizards are unlikely to have the assets to make a competitive offer. Al Horford might not be the player in the #1 slot on the Wizards’ wish list, but he is one of a very small number of free agents this year and next with the potential to elevate the Wizards above the middle tier of the Eastern conference. If given the opportunity, they should sign him.
All statistics from nba.com unless otherwise noted.