Can the Boston Celtics Continue to Succeed Without Al Horford?

The NBA offseason features so much player movement these days that it’s not uncommon for teams to watch multiple free agents depart in one offseason club. The Boston Celtics fell into this camp. Before this season started, they said goodbye to stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.

While Irving’s departure was widely expected as the team and the player failed to gel, Horford’s exit was a bit more surprising. Heading into 2019, the Celtics found themselves without the services of the All-Star big man.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Celtics accomplished with Horford, how they’ve done so far without him, and if they can hope to succeed going forward without him in 2019 and beyond. 

Al Horford celebrating after scoring a point for the Boston Celtics
Al Horford | Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

How Al Horford fared with the Celtics

Horford spent three seasons with the Celtics and made quite a mark on the city and franchise. Here are some of his accomplishments from his time in green and white: 

  • 208 games played
  • 13.5 points per game
  • Seven rebounds per game
  • 1.2 blocks per game
  • 49% shooting on field goals
  • 4.6 assists per game
  • Three consecutive playoff appearances
  • Two All-Star game selections
  • 2017-2018 All-Defensive team selection

Horford represented one of the team’s most consistent, stable producers. He always played hard, well, and filled up the stat sheet. Horford’s time in Boston could be considered a success as they went to the playoffs every year he was there. They never quite got over the hump, however, unable to advance to the NBA Finals. Horford signed with the Philadelphia 76ers this past offseason. 

The Celtics 2019 recap so far

Through 12 games, the Celtics don’t seem to miss Horford or Irving very much. They’re 10-2, good for first place in the NBA Eastern Conference. It’s difficult to say how long they can keep this up — after all, it’s only 12 games into the season and they have teams like the Milwaukee Bucks to contend with. But it’s almost impossible to get a better start than that. 

What can Boston attribute its hot start to? Free-agent signee Kemba Walker. The superstar guard is averaging 23.8 points per game for the Celtics so far. They’re also getting improved play from Gordon Hayward (18.9 points per game) who struggled last season recovering from his 2017 leg injury. Unfortunately, Hayward went down recently with a hand injury.

As far as inside play goes, new acquisition Enes Kanter is averaging 8.2 points per game and six rebounds per game mostly off the bench. He’s no Horford, but he’s a solid player doing his part to offset the loss of an All-Star. 

How will the Celtics fare without Al Horford? 

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Obviously, Boston is doing just fine without Al Horford at the moment. But it’s easy to judge the team with only 12 games played. How will they do over the course of an entire season? 

While Horford is still a solid player, he’s 33 years old. He hasn’t played a full 82 game slate since 2015 — his last in Atlanta. There’s no telling whether he’ll stay healthy over the long haul or not.

The move to Philadelphia was a smart one for Horford. He’s no longer featured primarily by the team as an inside presence — that falls to Joel Embiid. Horford is playing well so far this year, but that can be attributed to not being a major focus for opposing defenses. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics have gotten younger inside and are doing just fine. Horford’s absence has given more room for young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to grow offensively around the perimeter. Walker’s signing offset the loss of Irving, and new starting center Daniel Theis has done a fine job filling in for Horford. 

The Celtics have moved their team in a new direction and it looks like it’s working so far. Provided they can stay healthy, it appears they’ll have no problems without Horford.