Greetings! We’ve come to the end of the line with player previews and that means only one thing…. the season opens tonight! We’ve come a long way through guys like Paul Millsap, Gustavo Ayon, and Mike Scott, but we’ve landed here with the anchor of the franchise, Al Horford. Let’s get it going.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Al Horford is good at basketball. The 27-year-old big man averaged career-highs in both points (17.4 per game) and rebounds (10.2 per game) last season, and those numbers ballooned to 19.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game after the All-Star break. Now, Josh Smith is gone, and the emphasis on Horford’s offense will be more prevalent this year, bringing the pressure toward him for a leap in production. Needless to say, I think he’s up to the challenge.
Horford is a “do-it-all” player from the center position. There has always been a question of whether he was a center or a power forward, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. He’s playing center again this season, and he’s an elite player at the position. Al steps out to the mid-range with the best of them, and that pure shooting stroke (ugly as it may be) allows him to sustain a career 53.9% mark from the field despite the lack of an elaborate post game.
His usage rate (read: the amount of offensive possessions that he “uses”) went up to career-high levels last year, and that should increase again for the upcoming season. There will be undoubtedly be more touches in the post for Al, and I’d look for that part of his game to come along nicely while keeping up his mid-range excellence. It will certainly be a good barometer for his prospects to make “the leap” toward being a “superstar” this season, as he likely needs to crack the 20-10 plateau for the Hawks to contend for a high seed in the playoffs.
Defensively, Horford is a rock. He’s not an elite shot-blocker, which is his only knock, but even that part of his game is solid (1.1 per game) and he makes up for it elsewhere. Horford is a great positional defender who is always in the right place, and with better options on perimeter (read: DeMarre Carroll), that should help the rim protection. Al also rarely fouls (despite what Larry Drew thinks!), and that should continue to give him minutes in the upper-30′s.
Overall, he’s the best player on the roster by a wide margin, and for me, Al Horford is unquestionably a top 15-to-20 player in the league.
Role on the Roster
In addition to being the best player, Horford is also the leader of this time. He’s certainly not the type of long-term veteran like Elton Brand and Kyle Korver are, but with 6 years under his belt, Horford is more than ready to assume that mantle.
He is also the one player on this roster that absolutely cannot get hurt for this team to have success, and while skeptics to that would point toward the 2011-2012 season (where he played only 11 games during a 40-26 season), this roster isn’t built to sustain without him.
I think Horford is a legitimate candidate for a 20-point, 10-rebound per game season, and if he can raise up his awful free throw shooting (64%) from last season, that will help. There’s no reason to think he won’t have a higher usage rate, and with that, the numbers will follow. He’s the cornerstone of the franchise, and with Mike Budenholzer and Al Horford, the future is bright.
That wraps up the “player profile” series, but be sure to stay tuned for all of your Atlanta Hawks needs!