PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers made a major change to their rotation on Tuesday night as coach Brett Brown moved Al Horford to the bench for the team's matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. While the other four members of the team's first five -- Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson -- remained the same, Furkan Korkmaz got the starting nod in the first half over Horford, and new addition Glenn Robinson III did in the second half.
The move was a long time coming, as Horford's struggles to fit in comfortably in the starting lineup have been well-documented. I:
The main problem is that Horford's skill set on the offensive end is redundant with Philadelphia's two other All-Stars. Horford is at his best when he's operating either from the elbow or the low block. He is very comfortable with creating good looks for himself and others from these areas. The issue with that is Embiid and Simmons are also both most comfortable in these areas, especially on the low block, where Embiid does a fair share of his damage, and where Simmons is often relegated as a result of his inability to space the floor with his shot. Thus, Horford has been spending a lot of time on the perimeter, where he's limited, and not especially effective.
Horford himself has acknowledged his integration issues.
"It's not as good as I want to be," Horford said of his fit in December. "I still haven't been able to find my rhythm with the team... I'm out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I'm very limited with the things that I can do. So I can't control that stuff... So all I have to do is make sure I'm there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win."
So, with questions about Philadelphia's legitimacy as a contender reaching a fever pitch over the past few days, an adjustment was made. The move to bring Horford off the bench was significant for a couple of reasons. It was the first time that Horford, a five-time All-Star, has come off of the bench since his rookie year in 2007-08. That's over 700 games, and over a decade, of action. Plus, the Sixers paid Horford major money over the offseason. $109 million over four years to be exact, and it's pretty safe to say that they didn't envision him in a reserve role during his first season with the team when they dished that money out.
Nonetheless, general manager Elton Brand made it clear recently that Brown was empowered to tweak the rotation however he pleased, even if it meant moving the highly-paid Horford to the bench, which it did. It was only one game (and it was in Philadelphia where the Sixers have been downright dominant), but the early results were promising, as the Sixers bested the Clippers 110-103 on Tuesday night to move to a league-best 25-2 at home. Horford still got his minutes – he played 28 minutes against the Clippers, just below his season average of 30 – and was able to contribute; he had 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, and he was a +10 for the game; numbers that also aren't far off from his season averages. He wasn't completely staggered with Embiid, as the two shared the court for several minutes down the stretch of the game, though Horford didn't close out the contest.
With the second unit, Horford got to play a majority of his minutes at his natural position of center rather than being pushed into perimeter play. His absence from the first five also opened things up offensively for Embiid and Simmons. They both had ample space to operate and they both had great games. Simmons finished with a triple-double (26 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), while Embiid added 26 points, 9 rebounds and a block.
Horford has developed a reputation as a consummate professional around the league, and that remains true. Does he want to come off the bench? Probably not, but he understands that it may be beneficial and he put the team first.
"All class," Brown said of how Horford handled the bump to the bench. "I said 'Right now, this starting group has been struggling, you've done nothing wrong.' I keep myself up late at night trying to find ways to better coach it and fix it and let it co-exist and to date, after 50-whatever games, we've struggled a little bit. He just is all class. He's a great teammate. He understood."
"He's a true pro," Simmons added. "I respect him a lot. He's going to be big for this team. It's going to show."
It remains to be seen if Horford's move to the bench is permanent, as Brown is fond of saying that he bases his rotations on matchups. But, it worked against the Clippers, and it might be the best option to maximize the talent on the team for the upcoming playoff push.