Sleighed by some questionable voting last week, Al Horford missed out on what should have been his second career Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. From February 25th to March 3rd, Al Horford averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks, all while shooting 62% from the field. Pretty ridiculous numbers no matter how you look at it. But the week of the 25th to the 3rd is just a microcosm of Horford’s entire season, one that’s not nearly getting as much attention as it deserves.
Horford has always been regarded as a solid mid-range shooter in the past, but this year his percentages have declined from three to fifteen feet out. So it seems a bit odd that this year he is averaging a career high 17 points per game, until you see that he’s shooting nearly 80% at the rim. Once establishing post-position, Horford is extremely good at sealing his opponent off, receiving the ball, and scoring.
There’s also something to be said about Horford’s teammates, who do a great job finding him under the rim. Josh Smith has assisted Horford on nearly as many field goals as point guard Jeff Teague, because this season Smith and big Al have been working the high-low very effectively. Here’s an example:
On this play, Smith receives the ball at the top of the key, with Horford establishing position in the paint. You’ll notice that the Hawks have Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, and Deshawn Stevenson all on the perimeter spacing the floor as much as possible. (Click to enlarge)
Smith then throws it to Horford’s left shoulder, and Horford seals off Lavoy Allen the whole way en route to an easy bucket.
Here’s another example. On this play, Smith again receives the ball at the top of the key, again all the backcourt players are spacing the floor, but this time Horford appears to be setting a screen for Josh Smith.
Instead, Horford slips to the basket, and because all the shooters are on the arc, there are no defenders within sight of the paint to provide any help defense. Josh Smith finds Horford for an easy ally-oop bucket.
Here’s a video of the same play:
The Smith-Horford connection has been working wonderfully for the Hawks all year, leading to Josh Smith currently averaging a career high in assists. These were two perfectly executed plays, which led to uncontested baskets, but don’t think Horford doesn’t work for his results. He has a mean post game around the basket, and though his mid-range numbers have dipped this season, you won’t see any defenders sagging off of him. He also does a great job setting him self up for baskets by running the floor. He may be 6’11”, but don’t let his large frame fool you. He loves to turn defense into offense, and finish on the other end in transition.
Atlanta is currently sitting at sixth in the East, and a big reason for their success is attributed to the terrific play of their center. Larry Drew has done an impressive job this year, putting his players in positions where they can improve the team, and Horford has indisputably done just that.