Monday, August 6, 2012

Way Too Early Expectations-o-Meter: Jon Horford

People I've already talked about: Tim Hardaway Jr.Jordan Morgan, Matt Vogrich 

Career To Date 
Jon Horford--brother of Al, son of Tito--committed to Michigan on March 26th of 2010, two weeks after Evan Turner had ended what was a disappointing third season for John Beilein. At the time, Jon was a spindly 6'8'' 200 pound sort, a 3-star recruit. He boasted offers from only Michigan and Providence, according to Rivals; his Scout profile also indicates an Alabama offer. Tim's "Hello" post at MGoBlog from two years ago also notes that he got an offer from Cal and a non-zero level of interest from Michigan State. Needless to say, he didn't have the sort of recruiting hype that his brother did when he enrolled at Florida to play for Billy Donovan. 

That said, Horford brought something that Michigan didn't have much of at all: height. At approximately 6'8'', it seemed like he had a little room to grow even more. He now stands at 6'10'', according to his official profile on MGoBlue

There are quite a few interesting (and amusing) observations cited in that Hello post. For example, Dylan of UMHoops: 
But at the end of the day he just doesn’t “wow” you like you would expect a high-major big man to. He got ripped of several rebounds and doesn’t appear to be a tremendous shot blocker, despite being the tallest player on the court. He is very slender from the mid-section down and had to pull up his shorts after about every play. Horford’s shooting form is also screwy and will certainly get some attention once he is playing for a division 1 coach.
This was after lauding his overall mobility, finishing touch, and passing, observations which were echoed by basically every other scout. Even more intriguingly, from the same post: 
His brother Al was solid at the same stage and with hard work, ended up a two-time National Champ and NBA Lottery pick. Jon is on the same path.
This was, however, from December of 2007. As a rising junior, it's clear that Jon probably isn't the same caliber of player as Al was. At the same time, Jon was robbed of a chance to prove himself after an injury last December that caused him to miss the rest of the season (i.e. the entire conference schedule).

So, the recruiting skinny on Horford? Wait for it...he was really skinny (yes, ZING). As a 6'8'' guy weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, there was literally no way he could compete in the GRITTY and TOUGH Big Ten with those measureables. Since matriculating to Michigan, however, Horford has put in him major time in the weight room, as he is currently listed at 250, which is kind of ridiculous to be honest with you.

His freshman year went about as expected: 6.8 minutes per game, 2 ppg, and 2 rpg. There had been some major cognitive dissonance coming from scouts. He was both a versatile post guy who needed some work in the wight room and a major project type prospect. After his debut season, it was pretty obvious that he was more the latter than the former. That's not to say that we won't get any better, because he very obviously will, it's just that it will take a little bit longer for him to do so.

Last Year
At the beginning of last season, pre-injury, he definitely seemed stronger down low on the boards and on defense. Sure, Michigan's non-conference slate was pretty soft, especially if you're no including the tournament in Maui, but you have to start somewhere.

Sample size issues abound re: Horford's sophomore season, but in the nine games he appeared in, there were signs for optimism. His minutes went up (10.8 mpg) by four, and his field goal percentage (53%, up from 48%), rebounds 3.6 rpg, from 2.0 per), and points per game (2.7 ppg, up from 2.0) all went up accordingly. He was moving well, passing well, and looking like a very useful player off the bench for a team sorely lacking in size. Even shot-blocking, which was noted as a negative for him (i.e. he should be much better at it given his height), became a useful aspect of is game. He blocked 11 shots throughout his entire freshman campaign; last season he swatted 9 shots in only 9 games.

People will remember last year's trip to Maui as the official beginning of the Trey Burke Experience, but looking back, Horford had himself quite the tournament as well. The Memphis and UCLA games were incredibly encouraging performances for him, on both ends of the floor.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, a right foot injury would eventually sideline him for the remainder of the season. Despite intermittent reports that he would possibly make his way back onto the floor, he apparently never quite recovered enough to risk playing him. Eventually, Beilein put the possibility of a  return to rest for good in February.

On the bright side, Horford did not exceed the requisite 30% of games played, making him eligible for a medical redshirt, affording him three more seasons of eligibility.

Things That Were Good
Again, sample size and all that, but Horford's performance in Maui, specifically against Memphis and UCLA, was pretty tremendous. Overshadowed by Trey Burke's surge into the collective college basketball consciousness, Horford dropped the following stat line in 12 minutes against Memphis: 6 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and, most encouragingly, 4 blocks. Given the aforementioned concerns about his shot-blocking ability not matching up to his height, this outing would have perhaps signaled the beginning of the repudiation of that fact (if not for the injury). 

The UCLA game might have been even better. In 19 minutes, a career high, Horford scored 12 points, also recording 7 boards, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. UCLA wasn't very good last year, but it's still a game against a major conference team, and Horford looked surprisingly dominant. There was a lot to be excited about, and perhaps the most notable thing in all of this is that when he went down, he was sorely missed, and it wasn't just because Michigan had lost a guy who happened to be tall. Horford appeared to be on his way to a season of shot-blocking and put backs on the offensive glass. It's difficult to say what sort of impact he would've had on Michigan's season as a whole, but it's safe to say that Michigan could have used him during the conference schedule. 

Things That Were Bad 
There isn't much "bad" to talk about because his season was cut short before we really got to see him play against the best of the Big Ten. If I had to pick something, he was pretty much  non-factor in Michigan's two other big non-conference games against Duke and UVA. In 10 combined minutes from those two contests, he went 0-4 with only 1 rebound and 1 turnover. But, again, sample size applies to the bad as well as the good. 

If Horford Was A Literary Figure 
William James. This one is clearly somewhat of a stretch, as William James wasn't really a literary figure, per se, but...this section in general is somewhat of a stretch, right? Jon, like William, has largely lived in the shadow of his brother William Al, is talented in his own right in spite of the general lack of mainstream recognition. 

Things That Would Be Prettyyy Prettyyy Prettyyy Good 
  • Keep swatting. We'll see how much of a shot-blocker McGary is, but as far as known commodities go, Morgan isn't one and neither is Biefeldt (probably). McLimans is used sparingly. As such, Horford represents a significant majority of Michigan's shot-blocking ability. Not to be that guy, but altough I think that shot-blocking is probably the most overrated defensive quality there is, it doesn't hurt to have it at your disposal. Horford flashed the ability to be a legitimate force in the paint against Memphis and UCLA (he also recorded blocks against Iowa State and Oakland). 
  • Run the floor. Like Jordan Morgan, Horford's scouting report was replete with observations regarding his mobility for a big guy and his ability to run the floor. Again, for as much as people criticize Wisconsin, Michigan was actually a fairly slow team last year as well, so it's not like Michigan will be running up and down the floor like it's a track meet. That said, if Jon can pick up a bucket or two or sheer force of will by beating his man down the floor, that might be all Michigan needs from him offensively. 
  • Develop some sort of shot. Like every Division I recruit that is 6'8''+, Horford put up nice offensive numbers in high school. Scouts noted that he had some solid moves in the low post, and although his arsenal was fairly unpolished and he could be pushed away from the basket, there was clearly some sort of offensive capacity to be chiseled out of that block of marble called potential. Morgan has developed his own niche on the team, running the floor and muscling his way inside to some tough put back points. In lieu of not having a jumper, Morgan has worked on and executed a little jump hook that still isn't perfect but is definitely deployable. Horford needs to start figuring out what his thing is. He hilariously attempted 8 threes as a freshman...although he went 1/8, I'm not sure 
Horford and Morgan are obviously different players with different body types, but a lot of the same verbiage applies for both. Both have room to improve offensively, and by that I don't mean that either can become a regular double digit scorer. Rather, for players like these two, it's important to develop a niche, something that Beilein and the primary scorers can trust in every once in a while. Not unlike hockey, where you have "core" guys and then "secondary" scoring to supplement that top shelf talent, Morgan is without a doubt a secondary scorer. This is admittedly a minor quibble, since what I'm talking about is a short jumper or post move that would be used maybe two or three times a game, if that. 

Otherwise, I would like to see Horford build upon his strong start to last season. Against the better teams on the non-conference schedule, he came to play on both ends of the floor, blocking shots, picking up boards, and putting back bunnies here and there. I'm no doctor, but his foot injury seems like something that could easily be aggravated or re-injured, so Beilein will have to play his minutes by ear early on. Assuming that everything goes according to plan and he remains healthy, I see Horford, like Morgan, having a somewhat imperceptible uptick in his stat line that doesn't quite underscore how much he will have actually improved. 

In short, I think Horford will begin to flash the skill this season that he showed in 9 games last year. How much his stats go up is somewhat immaterial, especially given that the front court has gone from a barren wasteland to verging on, dare I say it...very deep. He's been around for two years now, though, so I don't know that his minutes will go back to what he posted in 2010-11. Something in the neighborhood of 3.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, and between 1-1.5 blocks per game would be a solid expectation for a player who I think will surprise people this season with what he is capable of doing. 

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