Embiid Recognizes Horford’s Case for All-Star Starting Role

BOSTON – All-Star Game starters will be revealed at 6 p.m. tonight on TNT, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid is on track to earn one of the East’s starting frontcourt spots alongside Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Cleveland’s LeBron James.

That would leave Boston big man Al Horford out of the picture for a starting spot, but Embiid, whose 76ers are set to face Horford’s Celtics tonight in Boston, believes that his Atlantic Division counterpart deserves just as much recognition as he has garnered.

Embiid, who had tallied 784,287 votes in the latest All-Star voting return, was asked this morning at Philadelphia’s shootaround why he believes he deserves the spot over Horford, who had accumulated 229,906 votes of his own as of Jan. 11. Instead of using the opportunity to promote his cause, Embiid made an argument for Horford’s case as a starter.

“[The Celtics] have the best record in the East, so you can argue for that,” said Embiid. “And [Horford’s] a big part of it. He’s done a great job, a fantastic job this year. I enjoy watching him play. I enjoy playing against him.”

Embiid’s averages of 23.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 blocks over 31 games are more impressive than Horford’s marks of 13.4 points 7.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.0 blocks over 41 games. But as Embiid noted, Horford is “a big part” of the Celtics’ success this season, and that goes far beyond his statistical contributions.

On the offensive end, Horford, a 31-year-old four-time All-Star, has been largely responsible for leading Boston’s charge this season. He’s consistently recognized by his teammates and opponents, alike, as one of the best playmaking bigs in the league. His top-notch passing abilities and strong basketball IQ are attributes that benefit the entire Celtics team.

Horford is also shooting 52.0 percent from the field and a career-high 43.3 percent from 3-point range, while Embiid is shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from long range.

Defensively, Horford is regarded as one of the best at his craft. He’s extremely versatile on that end, and always knows where to position himself in order to cut off passing lanes or contest shots. The veteran big man’s efforts have been pivotal for Boston’s league-leading defense, which is allowing the lowest scoring margin (98.1 PPG) in the East.

“I think that what Al allows you to do is he gives you another guy who shoots like a traditional guard, so that he can play both spots,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently stated. “And his ability to defend 4s allows him to play with anybody. He can play small or big.”

Combine all of those attributes and you’ve got an extraordinarily well-rounded basketball player who has played a critical role in leading his team to the East’s top record of 34-11.

All of that is not to say that Embiid isn’t a well-rounded player, as well. The 7-foot center is without a doubt one of the most impressive rising stars in the league, and he will likely be a perennial All-Star for years to come. But his strong statistics have not made enough of a difference to make Philadelphia into a winning team. The youthful 76ers are currently ranked ninth in the East with a mediocre record of 20-20.

Embiid certainly would be deserving of an All-Star staring role if he gets the nod tonight, but as he acknowledges, Horford has made one heck of a case as well.