As soon as Kerry Blackshear Jr. committed to the Gators the comparisons to former stud big man Al Horford began and it’s not hard to see why. They have a similar build with narrow hips and broad shoulders, they both have excellent offensive instincts especially when it comes to passing from the post, and they both move their feet well defensively for players of their muscular build. Just how close is Blackshear’s play to one of the greatest Gators do every wear the orange and blue? I thought I’d look at some numbers to find out.
For the record, the numbers I reference are from Horford’s 2006-07 season (his final at Florida) and of course, Blackshear’s numbers are from last season at Virginia Tech.
Raw Stats Breakdown
Really close box scores numbers for sure. The identical steal and turnover numbers are really interesting as well as the near assist count and points per game that isn’t all that far off. While the rebounding numbers are both excellent Horford was the more dominant player on the glass, particularly defensively. He averaged 6.9 defensive rebounds per game to Blackshear’s 4.5 though Blackshear used his superior length to get more offensive rebounds with 3.1 to Horford’s 2.5.
All the raw box score numbers aren’t identical but they do start painting a good picture of how similar the players are. Let’s start looking a bit deeper.
Scoring on the low block was the most impressive part of Blackshear’s game last year and it was also a staple of Horford’s game in Gainesville. Let’s look at how similar they were in that area. You’ll see what percentage of shots they took on post ups, their points per possession, and their field goal percentage. When you look at points per possession it’s helpful to remember that the Gators had 0.897 PPP last season which gives you a reference point to how efficient the shot is.
# Of Possessions: 163
% Of Shots: 31.8%
# Of Possessions: 198
% Of Shots: 44.1%
As you can see there’s a major similarity in points per possession with Horford being a bit better. Horford’s field goal percentage is a good step better but Blackshear’s ability to get fouled in the act of shooting (16.6% of the time versus only 2.5% of the time for Horford) allowed him to have that incredibly similar PPP.
Want some eerily similar numbers? While Blackshear got fouled a lot more in the act of shooting versus Horford who got fouled a lot more on the floor (I watched the film—I’m chalking this up to the fact they are 100x more generous with continuation now than they were in 2007) they got the whistle a nearly identical amount of times when you look at all fouls.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. drew fouls on 23.3% of his possessions.
Al Horford drew fouls on 23.2% of his possessions.
Now we’re talking similar numbers. These high fouls drawn numbers show just how much pressure the two bigs put on opponents with their strength down low and it’s something that helped the Gators in 2007 and will once again help them in 2020.
Something that I thought was impressive about Blackshear’s game as I went through the film was his ability to attack closeouts and drive the lane for someone at the center position. His balance and body control for a big body reminded me of, well, Horford, and when I looked into the numbers they showed once again how similar these players are. Their points per possession on these plays:
Once again we have scarily similar numbers. While you could look at their work in the post as something that points to their similarities it’s also their ability to drive the basketball for a big that really makes them special. For those who were able to watch a lot of Horford during his time at Florida there are going to be plays with Blackshear where he catches on the wing, pump fakes, and then drives to the cup for a layup that are going to remind you of big Al.
Distributing the ball from the interior was a strength of Horford’s and one of the things that made him so unique for the era he was playing in. Where does Blackshear line up next to Horford? Well, as we saw earlier Blackshear had the advantage in raw assist numbers. When you look at assist rate, Blackshear is also a mildly superior passer at 17.3% to Horford’s 14.8%.
Where they got their assists was similar but with just enough of a difference to show the slight variation in their play styles. For Blackshear, 38% of his assists came off of post ups with the majority of his assists coming from the high post running dribble handoffs for his guards.
Horford, on the other hand, had 45% of his assists off post ups. This, as well as the numbers I showed earlier about the percentage of shots taken shows that Horford did spent more time than Blackshear on the low block while Blackshear does more in the high post and even beyond the three point line as an initiator. While the way they moved the ball and got assists was a bit different their desire to set up teammates and the way the coaching staff trusted them to distribute shows a skillset and mindset of similar players.
Comparing defense from 2007 to 2019 is a bit tough due to the different ways teams played. Horford was defending traditional big men who pounded the ball inside and he generally got to stay in the paint which also explains a bit why his shot blocking numbers are so much better than Blackshear’s. Blackshear, on the other hand, has to do a lot more switching and guarding out on the perimeter. Even though comparing Horford and Blackshear defensively is tough to do there are definitely some ways Blackshear moves that are reminiscent of Horford. Watch Blackshear as he gets in his stance and moves sideways and it’s a lot like Horford. They both have a similar balance when defensively sliding and they’ll often take similar angles when guarding screen and roll.
One thing I find funny is that Blackshear probably would have had a lot of success if he played in 2007 having to guard primarily post ups and Horford would have had a lot of success in 2019 switching out onto guards (obviously we do get to see him do it in the NBA now). The stylistic differences in basketball and difficulty in gathering meaningful defensive stats make the comparison a bit tougher than the offensive side of things but according to the eye test in how they move, they once again look similar.
What’s Different Between The Two?
While they are similar players they obviously aren’t carbon copies and there are similarities in their games.
First, when it comes to shooting they’re different. Horford didn’t shoot threes at Florida as back in 2007 the concept of your bigs stretching the floor wasn’t thought of yet. We have seen Horford develop an excellent 37% 3-point stroke in the NBA so we can point to that but in terms of college Horford wasn’t a 3-point shooter which is different from the 33% stroke of Blackshear.
Somewhat surprisingly to me Horford wasn’t actually used as a pick and roll roll-man very often (though that was due to Joakim Noah getting most of the roll duties) which makes a distinction between him and Blackshear and Blackshear got a lot of use with that job. When you see Andrew Nembhard threading a pass to Blackshear for a layup you probably won’t see shades of Horford, instead you’ll just see Blackshear carving out his own niche in Gator big man lore.
As much as I think Blackshear is a good defender who moves similarly to Horford I really think Horford is the better defender. He was just that much quicker, that much bouncier, and had that much better instincts. Horford was a world-class defender so I’m not saying Blackshear is bad on that end or anything but to compare them or say they were similar in production on that end would be wrong.
I think Blackshear is a better or more multi-dimensional offensive player than Horford was at Florida. Part of that may be because that Gators team was simply outstanding and Horford only needed to fill one role versus Blackshear who had to do everything for Virginia Tech but I have seen more diversity from Blackshear and I think he’s probably a slightly better offensive player.
Is There Anyone Else Blackshear Reminds You Of?
Looking through the numbers there is another former Gator that had numbers in his senior season incredibly similar to Blackshear’s, and that was David Lee. Take a look at this.
Effective Field Goal
Fouls Drawn/40 Minutes
2PT Field Goal
When you look at a lot of the numbers David Lee is incredible similar to Kerry Blackshear. They don’t move quite the same and Blackshear doesn’t look like Lee on the floor but their contributions are actually really similar.
Hey, if you’re going to have two extremely similar comparisons as a college basketball center Al Horford and David Lee aren’t bad. Could Kerry Blackshear Jr. be the next Gator great? When you look at the numbers, I don’t see why not.