While Al Horford and Serge Ibaka are in very different situations, they’re both often asked to provide the same things for their teams. Horford might score a little more and Ibaka might blocks a few more shots but they’re both athletic, strong two-way players that have more skill than anyone ever seems to give them credit for.
With Ibaka turning in a career year for OKC, and Horford throwing up consistent All-Star numbers, we figured it was time to ask. Who do you think is better: Al Horford or Serge Ibaka? We argue. You decide.
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The Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford has a new opportunity in front of him this season. For the first time in his 6-plus-year career, he is stepping into new territory as the Hawks’ first option on offense. With his former frontcourt counterpart Josh Smith now in Detroit, Horford has become the team’s unofficial leader and centerpiece of not only the offense, but to the entire team as well.
That is the major difference between Horford and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is consistently the x-factor to the Thunder’s success, but OKC’s performance night in and night out is primarily driven by the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant tandem. Meanwhile, Horford is the engine that is accountable for the Hawks’ productivity. Looking at the Hawks’ dynamic as a team, Horford represents the sun and his teammates can be viewed as planets, if you will.
Horford is one of the most versatile bigs in the league today, yet is routinely overlooked for being so. His all-around game is superb, as he is naturally a power forward but plays the center spot very formidably. His offensive belt is chalk-full of weapons, including a consistent midrange jumper (shot 43.3 percent from 10-15 feet last season, per HoopData), an array of back-to-the-basket post moves (shot 76.7 percent at the rim and 43.9 percent from 3-9 feet last season, per HoopData), and solid passing abilities, especially at the elbow.
Horford is an anchor for the team’s defensive effort. While his defense has been slightly effected a bit from having a new frontcourt partner in Paul Millsap, if they can even come close to the effectiveness that Horford and Smith had in Atlanta for many years, Atlanta could make some noise in a rather quiet – except for Miami and Indiana – Eastern Conference. Horford’s versatility once again comes in handy on the defensive end, as he is one of the league’s best switch defenders and defensive helpers.
Ibaka is well known for his defensive prowess, as he remains arguably the best shotblocker in the NBA and is a very capable rim-protector for OKC. While Horford did have his best season in his career in 2012-13 in rebounding (10.2), Ibaka clearly surpasses him in protecting the rim and blocking shots. However, Horford’s ability to defend the ever-popular pick-and-roll set, switch to defend guards, and excel in man-on-man defense, boasts an all-around defensive game that tops the league. Per Synergy Sports, Horford’s overall defense allows just 35.6 percent of his opponent’s attempts to score this season compared to Ibaka’s 39.4 percent.
Now let’s take a look at comparing Horford and Ibaka by breaking down positional key statistics between these two. First, there are the obvious stats of points, rebounds and blocks per game. Both Horford (17.5) and Ibaka (14.7) are averaging a career-high in scoring, as they are both getting more touches. However, in overall offensive possessions, Horford scores 50.7 percent of the time compared to Ibaka’s 48.9 percent, according to Synergy Sports. Further, Horford beats out Ibaka in offensive post-up, pick-and-roll (roll man), isolation, and spot-up plays, which accounts for the bulk of their offense.
While Horford is averaging a career-best 1.7 blocks per game, Ibaka’s average has dipped from last season’s insane 3.0 to 2.5. Ibaka is also winning the rebound battle with 9.9 a night compared to Horford’s 8.0. However, Horford’s rebounding will most likely increase to around last season’s average (10.2) as the chemistry, timing, and awareness improve between Horford and Millsap.
As mentioned earlier, Horford is an excellent passer in the post or on the block. In fact, 593 points were generated by Horford’s assists last season compared to Ibaka’s 106. Additionally, when Horford is on the court for the Hawks, their ball movement picks up, as evidenced in his assist percentage of 13.7 compared to Ibaka’s assist percentage of 4.3 when he is on the floor for the Thunder.
However, the stat that pops out when comparing these two young bigs is once again related to what type of role they play on their respective teams. As noted at the beginning of this analysis, Horford is the nucleus for the Atlanta Hawks, and that is reflected in his usage rate of 24.6. Ibaka is holding down a usage rating of 19.2 on a team with Durant (30.3 usage rating) and Westbrook (32.7 usage rate). Additionally, Horford is the team leader in points, rebounds, blocks and PER (21.4).
Al Horford simply means more to his team than Serge Ibaka and consistently delivers his polished all-around game every season. He has grown and sharpened his game on a continual pace and is now poised to step into the shoes as the leader of the Hawks and the face of the franchise. Horford might be one of the most quiet and overlooked stars in the NBA today, but I would put my money on the versatile 27-year-old over Ibaka if you asked me who’s better.
*All statistics provided by Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.