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2012-13 Michigan basketball player preview: Jon Horford

October 30th, 2012 by Sam Sedlecky

To continue our returning player previews, today we take a look at big man Jon Horford. You can view previous player previews here.

Jon Horford
JorNumber: 15
Class: RS Sophomore
Major General Studies

6’10”, 250 pounds

Hometown: Grand Ledge, Mich.
High School: Grand Ledge High School
Position(s): Power Forward, Center
Career Stats:

2010-11: 2.0 2.0 0.1 0.0 0.3 0.4 6.8 47.8 72.2
2011-12: 2.7 3.6 0.1 0.3 0.6 1.0 10.8 52.9 85.7
Career Avg: 2.2 2.4 0.1 0.1 0.4 0.5 7.7 49.2 76.0

Career Highs: Points – 12, Rebounds – 9, Assists – 1 (4 times), Steals – 2, Blocks – 4, Minutes – 19

Career to Date: Of the returning players with somewhat significant playing time, Jon Horford is easily the biggest mystery. A local product out of Grand Ledge, Horford was a late bloomer on the recruiting scene and was better known as the brother of one-time Florida star and now NBA All-Star Al Horford than for his own game. He grew throughout high school until he stood about 6’9” his senior year, then grew another inch in college, but he came to Ann Arbor weighing only about 220 pounds – far too skinny for a big man that plans to play in the Big Ten.

Horford’s freshman year was nothing spectacular as he clearly was too light, too uncoordinated, and a little too flustered to thrive on the big stage. He showed flashes of potential backing up Jordan Morgan, but for the most part was one of the last guys off the bench, not even recording a minute in six games that freshman year.

Can Horford stay healthy for a full season? (photo by Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images)

Flash-forward to the beginning of last season and Jon Horford was seemingly a new man, poised to make a name for himself after living in the shadows of his NBA father and brother his whole life. Offseason reports were quick to point out a marked improvement in Horford’s body, athleticism, quickness, strength, and just about every other facet of his game. Insiders hinted that he may have overtaken Jordan Morgan in the starting lineup after a strong summer and fall, a notion that seemed ridiculous after Morgan’s exceptional redshirt freshman season and Horford’s nothing-to-write-home-about first year.

Lo and behold, however, Horford did see himself pegged into the starting lineup when the season rolled around, if only for the first regular season game. Clearly head coach John Beilein saw something in Horford that he liked, but a disappointing exhibition game and season opener quickly changed Beilein’s mind, as Morgan started every game after that.

Unfortunately for Horford, the breakout season wasn’t meant to be, as a nagging foot injury cut his sophomore year to just nine games. Beilein noted that Horford had been playing through some minor pain and apparently made his injury worse; by the time it was fully healed, it was probably too late for Horford to come back and make a significant enough impact to lose out on the medical redshirt that he later took.

Now entering his junior year academically, Horford still has three years of eligibility remaining with the basketball team, and depending on who is asked, he is either a star in the making or just a small piece to Beilein’s puzzle that will spend most of his career warming the bench. One thing is certain: no one knows what a full year of a healthy and fully-grown Jon Horford will bring, and with a knee tweak having already occurred this preseason, he will be slowed for a short period of time but is expected to be ready for the season opener. Hopefully for his sake, however, we find out this season what Jon Horford is fully capable of.

What He Will Provide:

  1. 1. Depth: This is never the most flattering thing to say about a player, but in Horford’s case, it really is a positive that he brings to the table. I don’t think Horford will be starting this season (at least not to begin the year), but he should be able to fill in at either the five for Jordan Morgan or at the four if Beilein wants to go big and McGary is not in the game. Any team that can run out three players that are 6’8”, 6’10”, and 6”10 is going to give some opponents trouble down low. I trust that Beilein will know when to exploit the opposition with a big line-up, and when Michigan does go big, Horford will see plenty of time.
  2. 2. Help-side blocking: Michigan was one of the worst blocking teams in the country last year, something obvious to anyone when Trey Burke was the leading shot-blocker on a team that averaged only two swats per game. In his limited playing time, Horford has shown a good ability to block shots with his long arms and good timing, characteristics that almost every great shot blocker possesses. I’m not sure that Horford will ever be a great on-ball defender, but he should be a very good presence in the paint against driving players, leading to many denials on otherwise easy baskets. Guys like Anthony Davis and Ekpe Udoh rack up their blocks like this as well and really help their team in doing so. Horford could erase two to three blocks per game if he continues to develop that skill, which could result in as many as six saved points, a huge number in a college game.

    John Beilein hopes Horford can become a reliable defensive presence inside (photo by Carlos Osorio, AP)

  3. 3. Rebounding: Again, it might not be the prettiest thing to do, but rebounding is exceptionally important to any team’s success. Beilein historically only stresses defensive rebounding, but with the emergence of a two-big offense, expect to see a little bit more emphasis on crashing the offensive glass for easy put-backs and extra possessions this season. Horford could excel on both ends of the floor in this category, using his tall frame and long arms to rise about the defense and snatch the ball off the rim. He will need to use his relatively newfound strength to get good position and work on softening his hands as much as possible, but if he can do these two things, Horford could again be the best player on the team in terms of rebounds per minute.

What He Will Have to Improve:

  1. 1. Offensive Authority: Horford has never proven to be a prolific scorer in his college career (or in his high school career, for that matter), but he will need to be a little more authoritative going forward if he is to be respected by the defense. Jon has shown flashes of brilliance on the offensive side of the ball, most notably in scoring 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting (2-of-3 FTs) in 19 minutes against Joshua Smith and UCLA in last season’s Maui Invitational third-place game and in an and-one throwdown over Ryan Kelly of Duke in the 2010 NCAA Tournament game. But he will need to display it more often before becoming a focal point of this offense. And while Horford won’t be relied upon to score much, he has the ability to become an efficient and solid offensive weapon with some time and effort.
  2. 2. Intensity: While this might not merit another spot on this list, going hand-in-hand with authoritativeness, Horford could stand to be a little more intense on the court. He often appears tentative when he receives the ball and is somewhat quick to pass it up before looking for his own shot, a habit that he will need to reverse. I think Horford clearly has the skill to be a good all-around Big Ten player, he just needs to be confident in his game on both ends of the court. And who wouldn’t love to see a few more dunks by Jon followed by a strong stuff on defense?
  3. 3. Staying Healthy: The one thing that has prevented Horford from reaching his potential yet has been his inability to stay on the court due to injury. There is obviously little Horford can do about this other than perhaps notify the trainers immediately when he feels something out of place, but if he can’t stay healthy, he will never become the player some envision. Tito and Al Horford were both noted for being fairly late bloomers, so there is still plenty of time for Jon to reach his potential, but sooner or later he needs to play a whole year.

Burning Question: Can Horford stay health for the entire season?

If Horford steps up, Beilein will have a lot of flexibility with his lineup

During his freshman year, Horford missed a couple games due to nagging injuries that probably slowed his early development, and he obviously missed the majority of last season, having played 0 minutes in conference play. If Horford can play this whole season, many think he could be a revelation in the Big Ten, perhaps even overtaking Jordan Morgan on the depth chart. Former Wolverine Tim McCormick went as far as to say that Horford appeared to be a top-five big in the Big Ten when watching a practice last week; if that is true and Horford stays healthy, it would be hard for Beilein not to play two bigs at once.

Favorite Big Ten Opponent: With career highs of only four points and four rebounds in Big Ten play (once against Purdue and once against Iowa), there is not enough data yet to declare a favorite conference opponent for Jon Horford.

Going Forward: Again, this all depends on Big Jon’s long-term health, but assuming he stays injury-free this year, Horford could be the pick for surprise or breakout player of the year, for both Michigan and the Big Ten as a whole. It will be a dogfight for minutes down low with three or four capable bigs, but Horford should be right in the mix. Pay very close attention to him early on to see how his season may go.

Stat Predictions: 6.5 points (55 FG%, 30.1 3-Pt%, 85 FT%), 4.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.8 blocks in 15 minutes per game.