2011-12 Player Preview: Jon Horford

Dylan Burkhardt

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Jon Horford was the number eight man in Michigan’s rotation last season and played fewer than seven minutes per game. Despite his limited playing time, the sophomore big man is regarded as the most likely breakout player on Michigan’s roster.

Horford has the bloodlines – his brother exploded between his freshman and sophomore seasons en route to two national champions and the NBA. He demonstrated his potential, including a big dunk during Michigan’s NCAA tournament loss to Duke, and has added strength to his already long and athletic frame. Despite the positives and obvious potential, we’re still talking about a guy who played 19 minutes and scored 3 points during Michigan’s final 13 games combined. The sample size is small but here’s a closer look at what Horford could be capable of this season.

Reasons for Excitement:

  • Rebounding: Horford’s rebounding percentage numbers were very solid despite an extremely limited sample size. He grabbed a quarter of opponents’ missed shots while on the floor and was more than capable on the offensive glass as well. He’s unlikely to rebound at that rate with more playing time, but he has shown the potential to be Michigan’s best rebounder.
  • Shot blocking: Michigan was the worst shot blocking team in the Big Ten but Horford blocked shots at a significantly higher rate than any other Wolverine. Michigan’s defense isn’t necessarily predicated on the blocked shot but Horford could still be an impact defender.
  • Added Strength: The muscle that Horford added this summer while working out with his brother, Al, should only continue to help him in both of these areas. Horford was woefully undersized last year and should be more equipped to deal with the rigors of the Big Ten at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds this season.

Cause for Concern:

  • Speed of the game & Awareness: The game moved too quickly for Horford last season. His problems weren’t always physical, but mental. There were many times that Horford was a split second late on a defensive rotation or a cut and those are mistakes that cost a team games at this level.
  • Perimeter shooting: Horford doesn’t need to be a perimeter shooter, but he tried last season. Horford made just one of eight three point attempts but those eight attempts accounted for nearly 20 percent of Jon-Horford-Michigan[1]his field goal attempts on the season. It would be a nice bonus if he can make those shots but at this point Michigan would be best served if he cut that element from his game.


A year can make all the difference but it’s also no perfect barometer. There’s no telling when the light goes on and everything starts to makes sense.

He has the physical tools and ability to make an impact on the floor but the hours in the gym and added strength mean nothing until they translate to game days. The million dollar question is whether the game slows down for Horford and he begins to cut down on costly mental mistakes.

Bottom Line: Jon will get his chances, especially early on, but he’ll have to make the most of them. Jordan Morgan should improve and is capable of playing more than 24 minutes per game if he can avoid foul trouble. Evan Smotrycz played significant minutes at the five position last season, has added strength and is being lauded for his rebounding ability early in practice. Opportunity is there but there’s not a massive void waiting to be filled.

An improved Horford is the best case for Michigan as he would round out a Michigan frontcourt with a consistent defensive option. If Horford is outplaying Morgan and Smotrycz that means the front court is probably good enough to compete with most teams on the schedule. If Michigan is still forced to slide Smotrycz to the five position when Morgan gets into foul trouble then the Wolverine front court depth is still not where it needs to be.

  • mikey_mac

    Great write-up. I too am hesitant about declaring Horford a breakout player this year. He lacked the physicality and just the general game last year to contribute. If the offseason workouts and muscle gain translate to the court, he still needs to come around quite a bit elsewhere before he’s an essential contributor.

  • Lankownia

    If Horford can hit the 3 at a respectable percentage (at least 33%) he should keep trying it.  8 shots isn’t enough to make a judgement.  Upside is a lot higher if he’s a floor-spacing 5.  That’s going to make it easier for Burke, Brundidge and others to be effective. It’s his biggest potential differentiator from Morgan and could get him on the floor at the 4 as well.

    It’s a shame he didn’t red-shirt because it feels like youth and inexperience are the main things holding him back right now.

  • Kenny

    Horford needs to be an offensive threat to see more minutes. Smotrycz showed a lot of improvement playing at 5 towards the end of the season and his newly gained strength only solidify him as the viable option at 5. Besides, Max Bielfeldt could be an option at 4 which provides size to the front court when Smotrycz slides to 5. 

    • Sven187

      All he needs to do is be able to play D without fouling, rebound, and pick up a garbage bucket here and there for 10 to 15 minutes a game. Anything else will be a HUGE bonus.

      Evan will be far more valuable playing the 4.

      • Sood

        Agree with this.

  • Mattski

    I think Jon is going to become a fine contributor. But I won’t be surprised if he is still working to be an impact player as the season wears on, only really breaking out next year.  

    • Bluebufoon

      I’m all in for Jon Horford. If he becomes an equal compliment to Jordan Morgan in the post Michigan basketball is back contending for a spot at the top of the conference and in the national rankings. Horford is the piece of the puzzle this program needs to compete with the big boys.

  • GregGoBlue

    I think that if Horford proves to be a viable backup to Morgan, Smotrycz can stay and play mostly at the 4 when we need that bigger lineup. That’s going to be huge for Smotrycz’s development, I think, getting him more minutes. If Smot can spend something like 80-90% of his minutes at the 4, rather than a 60-40 or a 50-50 (more of the case last season, just by an estimate), I think this will pay huge dividends for Smotrycz not just this season but down the line.

    I’m very excited for Horford; once he eliminates those mental mistakes on defense (and stay out of foul trouble) I think he’s going to be a real threat. He’s got “it”, that will to win and will to improve and the physical tools to do so. It’s only a matter of time.

  • MarcO

    Overall, this program is exciting. Not everyone will make the leap and significantly improve their game. The beauty of the current state of um ball is that some will. Whether it’s vogrich, smot, horford, Burke, brundridge etc. Enough will improve to make this next season memorable.

  • MGoTweeter

    The biggest thing with Horford is his defense and not his offense.  He has very good offensive skills and had them last season, but he was a defensive liability.  It really was not about him not being physically ready, as much as it was him not being defensively aware as Dylan pointed out.  Horford was a foul waiting to happen every trip down the floor.  

    Most of his issues are just going to take game experience to work out and the great thing about this kid is that he seems to have a very coachable nature.  A lot of times you would see him rotate late and commit a foul and get that immediate look of recognition of what he did wrong even before the coaches told him.  Early in the year I think we will still see a lot of the growing pains, but I would expect by late season he will be a solid contributor.  

    Overall though, I don’t know if we will really see him cut into the minutes that Smotrycz gets at the five.  The fact of the matter is the team was pretty good with Metrics running at the five and obviously Novak has shown to be the best option at the four.  It is going to take a lot of improvement to overtake those guys and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The best case scenario may be that he develops into another solid option up front and gives the team a little more flexibility in the rotation.  

  • ScottGoBlue

    I’m on the record as a big fan of Jon Horford.  I agree that he’s the man to watch as the “break-out player of the year” on this roster.  And if he breaks out, look out!  This team will be stacked on the front line.  The scouting report on M at this point has to be: Hardaway is the top danger, PG is the weakest link.  If Horford comes on strong, J-Morgan simply plays like last year, Smotrycz takes a normal Frosh-to-Soph step forward, our front court will be our secret weapon.  And that will open up things for everyone else.  That will open up 3-pt shooters.  That will take pressure off the PG position.  I’m saying it now … “look out!”

  • ryan

    I’m liking a  Morgan, Smotrycz, Horford, Christian front court rotation.  McLimans for insurance, plus the freshman

  • Ithinkwithabrain

    Horford could potentially be the difference between Michigan being good and great. Brundidge and Burke also definitely need to play like upperclassmen and not freshman for Michigan to be great, but if Horford makes the strides I believe he can make then our frontcourt is arguably as good as any in the Big 10. I’m intrigued by the prospect of Morgan, Horford, & Smotrycz aligning the 4 & 5. Smot brings the shooting and offense, Morgan the muscle & rebounding, & Horford additional muscle, rebounding, & shot-blocking.