New Celtic Starts Over Al Horford, Coach Udoka Addresses Surprising Move

Juancho Hernangomez starts over Al Horford

Getty Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the first quarter of the preseason game against the Orlando Magic.

For the first time since 2018, Al Horford stepped foot onto the court at TD Garden as a member of the Boston Celtics. However, in a bit of a head-scratcher, it wasn’t as a starter. Despite earning rave reviews to kickstart camp, it was not Horford, but rather newcomer Juancho Hernangomez who drew the start alongside Boston’s core four of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams.

However, that’s not to say that will be the case come the regular season. According to head coach Ime Udoka, opting for Hernangomez over Horford was simply a matter of wanting to “see some different looks,” per Celtics Blog’s Keith Smith. Udoka noted the Celtics “know what they have in Horford,” who has appeared to turn back the clock some in his short time back in Beantown. 

“He’s been great in training camp and great overall,” the coach said of Horford, via The Athletic. “And we want to look at some different combinations. Juancho’s a guy that fits into that role with some of the younger wings we have, as well as Grant Williams. So as I mentioned the other day, we’ll tinker with some lineups and look at different combinations.”

In other words, there’s no need to overreact. This is the time of year for teams to work out their lineup kinks, take extended looks at new acquisitions, and feel out the best way to deploy their rotation for when the regular season comes rolling around. In reality, it would likely be an upset should Horford not be slotted as the team’s starting power forward for October 20th’s season opener against the New York Knicks.

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Hernangomez: ‘The Shot is Going to Fall’

Hernangomez finished his Celtics preseason debut with a mostly unremarkable stat line, producing six points and five rebounds in 17 minutes. He knocked down 50% of his field-goal attempts on the night and missed his lone shot from beyond the arc. Still, Hernangomez’s shooting prowess is a major reason why the Spaniard will be draped in green and white this season. The hope in Boston is that Hernangomez can resemble his 2019 former where he knocked down a career-best 42.0% of his 3-point attempts in an abbreviated run with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I think the shot is going to fall … for sure,” he said, per Celtics Wire.

For now, Hernangomez — who is set to star alongside Adam Sandler in Netflix’s upcoming film “Hustle” — is mainly focused on integrating himself into the Celtics’ locker room and rotation.

“I know the player that I am; I’m just trying to adapt my game to the team. (I) try to keep knowing each other (better), try to know the players, know what the coach expects me to do — We’re going to try to build the chemistry we need to win games.”

The 6-foot-9-inch, 214-pound Hernangomez was originally acquired in a September trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that saw the Celtics unload both Kris Dunn and Carsen Edwards in the process.

In 257 career games, the five-year NBA pro has averaged 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. He’s also hit on 35.1% of his 3-point attempts and is a career 43.0% shooter from the field. Hernangomez was originally drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 15th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

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