Free Agent Comparison: Al Horford vs. Nikola Vucevic

It has recently been reported that Al Horford will opt-out of his $30 million player option for the Boston Celtics and and become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It has also been rumored that the Dallas Mavericks are on the short list of teams that may sign Horford to a big money 4 year deal. For Horford to opt-out of $30M many think that the potential 4 year deal will be in excess of $80M, top level money for a free agent Center.

To see if such a deal would be worth it I want to compare Al Horford to another unrestricted free agent big man that will get a big contract this summer, Nikola Vucevic.

Al Horford

Horford

FA Type Age  2018 Salary  Career Earnings
UFA 33  $28.9 M  $160.7 M

Al Horford is a complete basketball player that does whatever the team needs to get the win. I don’t need to see big numbers from Horford to know that he is doing his part and contributing to overall team success. His shooting efficiency is great and he doesn’t rack up assist numbers but he knows how to move the ball within the team concept leading to shots 2 or 3 passes later.

Horford is a similar age to Marc Gasol, similar player options available to them, but right now it is hard to see Horford leaving Boston as they are one of the few elite teams in the Eastern Conference and just made it to the Finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward.  Horford to the Mavs seems very unlikely but I would love to have this winner on our team.

Horford Top Games
Opp MP FG% 3P 3P% FT% REB AST STL BLK PTS GmSc
MIA 34 54% 0 0% 100% 11 10 1 0 19 24.2
PHI 35 56% 3 60% 100% 8 5 4 0 23 23.9
SAC 31 80% 1 50% 100% 11 7 1 1 21 23.7
NYK 35 64% 2 100% 75% 7 5 1 3 19 23.6
MIL 37 38% 2 33% 75% 17 5 2 3 21 23.4
Warning: there may be explicit language in highlight videos

 

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic

FA Type Age  2018 Salary  Career Earnings
UFA 28  $13.3 M  $56.5 M

The casual NBA fan probably does not know much about Nikola Vucevic and the reason for that is because he plays for the Orlando Magic.  He is a really good scorer, rebounder, and passer but has been wasting 6 years in Orlando after being traded from Philadelphia as part of the Andrew Bynum deal that started the 76ers tanking process. I would love to see what Vucevic could do with a team around him, the best player he has played with is probably Victor Oladipo and that was in Oladipo’s first few years before he became the player he is today.

Vucevic is a monster in the low post. He has elite size at 7’0″ 260 lbs, has an arsenal of moves, and a very soft touch around the rim. To go along with his low post dominance Vucevic can also step out to the three point line and knock them down at a 36% clip with a very smooth release. He is a great rebounder and has the size and length to cause problems for opponents on the defensive end.

To start the year I thought that the Mavericks may be able to get a good deal on Vucevic in free agency because of the situation in Orlando but Vucevic had an All-Star season and has played himself into a big contract this summer.

I am not sure the Magic are going to come at Vucevic with a big offer as they are building around a core of Aaron Gordon (PF) who they just gave a big contract to, Mo Bamba (C) #6 pick in 2018, and Jonathan Isaac (F) #6 pick in 2017.  With all 3 of their core players being in the frontcourt I find it unlikely they will want to invest major resources in Vucevic since they are so far away from being contenders.  This seems like a great opportunity for the Mavs to swoop in and lock up a legitimate All-Star caliber starting center for the next 3-4 years while he is in his prime.

Vucevic Top Games
Opp MP FG% 3P 3P% FT% REB AST STL BLK PTS GmSc
TOR 33 70.6% 0 0.0% 75.0% 19 8 2 1 30 36.3
PHI 38 66.7% 4 100.0% 100.0% 13 12 2 0 27 33.6
LAL 36 50.0% 3 37.5% 100.0% 15 7 2 3 31 31.5
CLE 36 81.3% 100.0% 13 6 2 2 28 30.9
NYK 32 66.7% 2 66.7% 100.0% 10 9 0 2 28 30
Warning: there may be explicit language in highlight videos

 

Vucevic and Horford Statistical Comparison

2018-2019 Per Game Stats
Player G MP FG% 3P 3P% FT% REB AST STL BLK PTS
Vucevic 80 31.4 51.8% 1.1 36.4% 78.9% 12 3.8 1 1.1 20.8
Horford 68 29 53.5% 1.1 36.0% 82.1% 6.7 4.2 0.9 1.3 13.6

Only 2 other players in the league were able to match Vucevic’s production of points rebounds and assists in the 2018-2019 season and that was the probable MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. If you add in the fact that he made over 1 three pointer per game Vucevic is in a class of his own, nobody replicated those numbers.

Since Vucevic did play a few more minutes per game than Horford, let’s look at the numbers on a per 36 minute basis to even things out.

2018-2019 Per 36 Minutes Stats
Player G FG% 3P 3P% FT% REB AST STL BLK PTS
Vucevic 80 51.8% 1.2 36.4% 78.9% 13.8 4.4 1.2 1.3 23.9
Horford 68 53.5% 1.3 36.0% 82.1% 8.4 5.2 1.1 1.6 16.9

Even on a 36 minute comparison it seems clear to me who the better player is. 7 more points, 5 more rebounds and very similar shooting percentages and defensive numbers. Not to mention the fact that Vucevic is 5 years younger and thus much more durable, playing 80 games compared to Horford’s 68.

2018-2019 Advanced Stats
Player PER TS% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% BLK% TOV% USG%
Vucevic 25.5 57.3% 9.4 31.9 20.5 21.9 3 9.9 28
Horford 20.2 60.5% 6.5 18.3 12.4 21.2 3.9 11.8 18.9
2018-2019 Advanced Stats Continued
Player OWS DWS WS WS/48 OBPM DBPM BPM VORP
Vucevic 5.4 4.7 10.1 0.193 3 3.4 6.4 5.3
Horford 4.5 2.9 7.5 0.181 2.1 2.7 4.8 3.4

Vucevic bests Horford damn near across the board. Rebound percentage, assist, percentage, turnover percentage, win shares, box plus/minus, and value over replacement player all favor Vucevic to Horford.

When you look at each players rank among Centers league wide in several key stats per 36 minutes Horford really does not look great relative to his peers. He certainly does not look like someone you would throw a 4yr/$80+ million contract to.

Center Rank
Stat/36 min Vucevic Horford
PTS 3rd 17th
REB 7th 28th
TRB% 8th 28th
DRB% 5th 26th
ORB% 20th 27th
AST 5th 3rd
BLK 25th 19th
PER 4th 15th
3P% 5th 8th
WS 5th 11th
OBPM 3rd 4th
DBPM 9th 16th

I expected this comparison to be a much closer argument between the two but it is clear to me that Nikola Vucevic is head and shoulders above Al Horford. He is much younger and much productive. One is in his prime and the other is declining. The idea of having Al Horford on a shorter, cheaper contract than what is being reported would be amazing, but does not sound at all likely. If we are talking comparable money and length of contract there is no doubt in my mind I would much prefer making a move for Nikola Vucevic than Al Horford.

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