Philadelphia 76ers need Al Horford to accept an Iguodala-esq role

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Al Horford (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
NBA Philadelphia 76ers Al Horford (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Despite Al Horford being paid starter money, the Philadelphia 76ers may need him to accept an Iguodala-esq bench role when Joel Embiid returns

Andre Iguodala never won Sixth Man of the Year, despite arguably being the most valuable bench player in the NBA from 2014-2018. As much as anyone, he enabled the Golden State Warriors to play “positionless basketball” because of his ability to defend multiple positions, pass, and occasionally score, en route to three championships.

Joel Embiid’s absence over the past seven games has shown that the 76ers play a cleaner game when starting only one traditional big, and when Embiid returns, the way for Philadelphia to remain a dominant team for 48 minutes is for Al Horford to embrace his inner-Iguodala.

Through the first half of the NBA season, Iguodala’s first team, the 76ers have looked like less than the sum of their parts. But in the seven games Joel “the Process” Embiid has missed with a surgically operated finger, the 76ers have finally discovered the best lineup to surround a lone big man and thrive on offense as well as defense.

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Over these games, especially the past four, which they’ve won, the perimeter defense of Josh Richardson, Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle has been undeniable.

Despite loathing playing center, it is clearly Al Horford’s best position, on both sides of the floor, and will enable him to be more of a featured offensive cog, rather than a diminished role that he openly disliked when sharing the court with three max players and Josh Richardson. With Embiid out and more space to operate, Horford is averaging 4.5 assists over the past four games.

When Embiid’s back in the starting lineup, either Thybulle or Horford will return to the bench. It should be Horford, because Thybulle’s perimeter defense and athleticism enables Harris to play power forward, and provides more driving lanes for Ben Simmons, who is averaging a Herculian 68% field goal makes while putting up nine rebounds and 9.5 assists over the past four games.

Andrew Bogut and Zaza Pachulia were never better than Iguodala, but – like Thybulle compared to Horford – their true value was unlocked by playing with the starters.

Embiid and Horford are somewhat redundant players, and Embiid does everything at a higher level – except passing. Horford has never wanted to play center exclusively, but playing him with Simmons, Embiid, and Harris doesn’t really utilize any of their strengths.

Coming off the bench, Horford can still play power forward alongside Embiid or Kyle O’Quinn and Norvel Pelle (provided Simmons or Harris is off the floor) more often than he plays center, but it appears that the 76ers need him to come off the bench, providing veteran savvy and a steady hand. Leading lineups with fewer than four starters will allow – force – Horford to pass more, and operate like the underappreciated star he was in Boston.

The surprising shooting of Furkan Korkmaz – 39.1 percent on 3’s – is key to the success of lineups with or without the 76ers two franchise players, Simmons and Emiid, and dribble handoffs with Horford will continue to result in buckets.

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Horford can still close games for the 76ers, as Iguodala did for these death lineup Warriors, and play limited minutes with the season-opening starting five, but the 76ers – like those great Warriors teams – may need their $109M free agent signing to be an elite sixth man to reach their potential.