Well, this is a nightmare of epic proportion.
Hawks C Al Horford is out indefinitely with complete tear of right pectoral muscle. Horford was averaging 18.6 PPG this season for Atlanta.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 28, 2013
By now, you’ve already seen several reactions to the fact that Al Horford (the best player on the #3 team in the Eastern Conference) will be sidelined indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle, but we had to check in. First, our friends at Soaring Down South weighed in with an update on Horford, while Hawks.com’s Robby Kalland gave an in-depth analysis of what’s on tap for the team in the absence of “Boss”.
The specifics are simple. Horford has a complete tear of his right pectoral muscle (the exact same injury that he suffered during the 2011-2012 season, except on the other side), and while his absent is “indefinite” right now, it is certainly fair to say that he’s expected to miss the remainder of the year. With that, the Hawks are left without their best player, their emotional leader, and their lone “lock” for the All-Star Game, and that leaves us shaking our heads.
Seeing Al go down puts an immediate damper on what was a promising campaign toward home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference, but panicking is also the wrong move here. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton was quick to assert that the Hawks, statistically speaking, still have the inside track on the 3rd seed ($), despite seeing their win probability drop in a huge way without Horford’s services. In a more “casual” observance, the team is immediately much worse without him, but in the exceptionally weak East, the Hawks have a head start on the competition, and they still remain a very likely playoff team with a very reasonable shot at home-court in Round 1.
Paul Millsap is the main point of focus in terms of on-court proficiency, as he will now (presumably) be the focal point of the offense on the interior. Millsap has been incredibly efficient this season, posting a 19.62 PER with over 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, but now, his minute total is likely to rise from his baseline of 33.1 per game, and he’ll be asked to anchor the team underneath. At center, the Hawks have options, but at the same time, none of them can fill the role of Horford in terms of all-court prowess.
Elton Brand has played incredibly well in recent days, and when he’s on the floor, he’s probably the “best” option to pair with Millsap. Still, Brand is only playing 11.3 minutes per game this season, and there is a reason for that. The former #1 overall pick is 34 years old, and he was never brought in to be anything more than a supporting piece. Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic are also center options for Mike Budenholzer, but both have significant issues (Ayon’s limited offense and rim protection, Antic’s inexperience, etc.) and this will really try Coach Bud as his first major challenge.
Hawks GM Danny Ferry weighed in (via official team press release):
“We will work with Al and complete our due diligence to determine the next best steps for him. Injuries are part of the challenge of an NBA season.”
Certainly, that is a “GM speak” situation, but it does remind us that this particular season isn’t the only one in question. Horford is the cornerstone of this team, and he was being counted on to play the “Duncan” role in a Spurs-ian (yes, that’s a word) model brought in by Ferry and Budenholzer. It’s too early to speculate on his actual return date, but for me, it would be wise to let Horford completely heal, especially given the lack of legitimate NBA title aspirations this season.
Lastly, there is a small portion of Hawks fans moving to “tank” this season, but for me, that is a misguided thought process. Yes, there is a lot to be gained by missing the playoffs and praying for luck in the draft lottery, but because the rest of this team has been so good this season, a “tanking” scenario doesn’t exist. I’ve often stated that Danny Ferry couldn’t have possibly tanked this season with Al Horford on the roster, and that still remains the case given how well Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, and company have been playing. Even if they pulled the plug and didn’t attempt to make any moves, etc. to address his absence, the current roster features too many quality options to bottom out entirely, and that is a recipe for another playoff run, even if the lottery is more desirable to some.
The 2013-2014 edition of the Atlanta Hawks have brought joy to many who have enjoyed the reinvigorated offense, ball movement, and energy, and while Horford’s absence is a brutal one (especially given my stated love for him), the movement won’t cease in his absence.
Get well, Al.