Michigan fans received some frustrating news at Big Ten Media Day when John Beilein reported Jon Horford had twisted his knee at the end of a recent practice. Unfortunately, it was news that fans have become accustomed to. Horford has been plagued by injuries throughout his career at Michigan that have limited his playing time and his effectiveness. There was a lot of excitement when Michigan acquired the younger brother of Al Horford three years ago out of Grand Ledge and while it isn’t fair to say Horford has been a disappointment, we simply haven’t seen him in action enough to make a judgment on his development one way or the other.
After missing Michigan’s exhibition games, the latest news on Horford’s status is that he should be “full go” for Michigan’s season opener on Friday. If he is, Michigan fans will finally get a chance to see what he can do. But given how crowded the Michigan frontcourt is at this point, how much they will see of Horford is still up for grabs. What Horford has shown so far in his career has been largely inconclusive. If he comes back from his injury strong and wrests playing time away from Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary, it will be a good sign for his development and in turn Michigan’s front court. That being said, it seems more likely that Horford will work his way into the regular lineup slowly, especially coming off an injury that could limit his effectiveness. If Horford can stay healthy and log minutes, this will be the first season Michigan fans will get to truly see what he can do.
Reasons for excitement
- Explosiveness: Horford’s development has been exciting at times because he’s looked like he could provide what Michigan has seemed to lack: an explosive big man who could block shots and finish above the rim. Jordan Morgan has developed into an excellent defender and can hold his own in the paint, but even he would say he’s no shot-blocker. Horford has blocked 20 shots in 295 career minutes while Morgan has blocked just 28 in 1597 career minutes.Horford has the ability to challenge shots directly and he has proven that he can attack the rim without fear. Horford’s athleticism creates opportunities for easy baskets off the offensive glass and his mobility opens up opportunities for him off of the pick-and-roll.
- Strength: Horford began his career at Michigan very thin for his height and often got pushed around on the block. He seemed to be very far from the kind of NBA-ready body that his older brother Al exhibited at Florida. This year, however, Horford weighs in at a strong 250 pounds. John Beilein emphasized at Michigan Media Day that Horford spent a lot of time in the off season working out with Jordan Morgan, a player who went through a physical transformation of his own during his career. The added bulk should enable Horford to better establish position on the block as well as box out for rebounding opportunities. Playing in the especially bruising Big Ten, it appears Horford is finally ready to bang with the likes of Derrick Nix, Cody Zeller, and the other punishing bigs in the conference.
- Rebounding: The sample size is limited but Horford has proven to be a very good rebounder when he’s on the floor. Horford has posted strong offensive and defensive rebounding percentages throughout his career and if those numbers translate to extended playing time he could be one of Michigan’s best. In exhibition play, the Wolverines appeared to be a significantly improved rebounding team with the addition of Mitch McGary and Horford’s return should only bolster the U-M presence on the boards.
Causes for concern
- Health: This one is obvious, but it has to be mentioned. Horford will not be helping the team if he spends the season on the bench, injured. While he is not needed on the court as urgently as he was last year given the new depth in the frontcourt, his presence on the floor was one many fans were looking forward to. Injuries have plagued Horford throughout his career, and hopefully once he returns from his knee sprain he can remain healthy the the rest of the season and be a solid contributor.
- Crowded frontcourt: There is a distinct possibility that even when Horford returns and gets to be full strength, there just won’t be too many available minutes for him. With Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III presumably filling the 4-5 roles, Horford will need to earn his minutes. A lot of this depends on how well the two freshmen play. If McGary and Robinson play well together early on, opportunities for Horford could be limited. Chances are John Beilein will find spots for him and he will be able to keep Morgan fresh at the center position, but he will certainly have to earn his playing time this season.
- Hands: While Michigan fans haven’t seen a whole lot of Horford in action, one of the most notably frustrating weaknesses of his game is his occasional inability to hang onto the ball when he gets around the basket. John Beilein doesn’t normally have his big men simply post up and receive easy, entry-pass lobs into the block; big men in Michigan’s pick-and-roll offense must be able to catch passes, while rolling toward the basket, that often come at them from tight passing lanes. The margin for error is low, and Horford has to be able to consistently catch these balls in stride and finish at the rim. Jordan Morgan has become very sharp and consistent in his handling of these kinds of passes, which is one of the big reasons he’s found success in the pick-and-roll scheme.
If he stays healthy, Horford has the ability to secure a spot in the regular rotation of post players alongside Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III and solidify Michigan’s frontcourt. He is a big body with good rebounding instincts who plays hard and has some touch around the rim. If he has made progress in his game during the off season, he should see significant minutes. John Beilein hinted at Michigan Media Day that development is sometimes a frustrating process for Horford.
“He is taking the smallest steps sometimes you can take and sometimes steps backwards to take another step forward, but he is one persistent young man and he keeps working and working and working and he has had some workouts this summer with some of the similar mistakes he has made before — fouling right away, doing things he knows better than. He catches himself.”
Horford has always had ability, and with his added strength and two years of combined game experience and practicing with the team, he should have a leg up on the talented freshmen he’ll be competing with for minutes. Look for him to have a solid, though at times up-and-down, season.
This season is Horford’s chance to finally show the team what he can do. It hurts that he’s entering the season with an injury, but there are a lot of reasons to believe that Horford is still capable of playing well for this Michigan team. He is no longer a freshman and has plenty of experience to warrant those kinds of expectations.
Horford has all the tools this year: he is bigger and strong enough to compete with Big Ten big men in the paint; his point guard is one of the best in the country and will open up plenty of scoring opportunities for him down low. The pressure on him to produce won’t be excessive, but he has enough competition for minutes to push him. Michigan fans have been getting glimpses of Horford for two years. This year, a healthy Horford could be one of the feel good stories in Michigan’s rotation after a trying year of injury concerns.