Can anyone truly claim to know what Hawks center Al Horford is thinking? Maybe those closest to him, but then again, maybe even they do not know how he views himself on the basketball court. Of course, that isn’t going to stop us from assuming, presuming, speculating, and generally pontificating about it.
Does Al think he’s a PF or a Center?
The debate that’s been going on nearly since he came into the NBA has been whether or not Al Horford is a power forward or a center. Many experts and pundits call him an undersized center, but that’s not the same as calling him a power forward. In fact, while many claim Horfod is not playing where he’s supposed to be, they also laud him for doing the job as well as he has. There are so many examples of this, perhaps none any more apparent (and interesting) than Dime Magazine, who names him to their top ten in a list that is comprised of who they think was a top 10 center in 2010. Here’s the kicker – the list is not a list of top 10 guys at center in the NBA. It’s a list of the top 10 performers at the position of center in the NBA, college, and high school for the year of 2010. While it may be one man’s (or a group working for a magazine) opinion, it still spells good marks for a guy they turn right around and essentially say is a power forward who deserves a big raise. Clear as muddy water, huh…
But how does Al see himself? That question has hardly been asked of Horford until recently, most notably after this past NBA postseason. The fact is, the man has not had a whole lot to say about it, and none of it seems to be volunteered. Al has done his job on the court , where he embraced the role of starting center and (as we all know) earned a nod to the all-star game.
Here’s the funny part, and I have to repeat it - Al hasn’t had all that much to say on the subject, as most of the quotes I can find on it are one-liners or otherwise very short. And in some cases, the information has been so much baseless conjecture that it couldn’t be trusted. When in doubt, always go back to local info, right?
When Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham caught up with Al, this is what popped out of his mouth, presumably in response to a question:
“I’m fine with [center] but my natural position is obviously the four,” he said.
Cunnginham bumped into “The Boss” again later, and this time a little bit more perspective leaked out:
” ‘We need to get another big guy, another center, that’s able to help myself and Josh out,” he said. “We need to have someone to come in and have an impact. I think that is the position we need if we want to be any type of contender in the East….I don’t have a problem splitting time [at center], [ Al said]. I played a little four last year with Zaza in the game at the same time and I thought that was good. I know I am going to still play the five….I think we create a lot of problems when have an athletic lineup with Josh at the four, me at the five and Marvin at the three, [ Al said ] I think we create serious problems for people. I think that is one of our strengths as a team is we are so versatile.’ ”
The latest snippet, provided by avid Hawks fans Drmaryb and Astro Joe reveals a tad more perhaps, or not, depending on how you look at it:
“…’That’s what I’ve been all my life,” Horford said about the proposed shift toward PF.’ “
Needless to say, this isn’t any and every link I can find on this, so feel free to add anything you please in your posts, especially if it sheds more light on the subject (or anything related). But there we have it in black and white. Now….
What Does it Mean? What Conclusions do you draw?
On the one hand, it’s almost like Horford agrees with so many others in that he’s out of position at center. On the other hand, his actions on the court seem to speak louder than any words he or anyone else has spoken or typed. So, let’s ask (and answer) some questions.
1) Does Al truly prefer playing the 4 over the 5?
Well, he has to be happy about making the all-star team while playing at center, but he may feel that he is limited by playing almost exclusively at the position. He may feel that he has more to give, and would be more able to do that at the power forward position. What we haven’t heard as of yet is WHYAl thinks he is a natural power forward, as opposed to center. Unless I’ve missed something, there hasn’t been an opinion on that front from anybody, let alone Horford himself. Most attribute it to a height and weight ratio. As has been proven though, one cannot go on those two measurables alone.
2) Is this “new move” to play him more at PF more driven by Head Coach Larry Drew, or by Al Horford himself?
Keeping in mind that we still don’t quite yet know Larry Drew the Head Coach, I’ll err on the side of this being Drew’s idea. Horford is an unselfish player who doesn’t make demands like some in the League. And yet, I can recall him making comments during the season about providing more if he gets the ball more. Again, not something that seemed selfish to me at all, as Al had a point – the Hawks needed a threat in the post, and outside of Josh Smith (when he wasn’t getting distracted by wide-open 20-foot jumpers), they didn’t have it. My guess is that Larry Drew has wanted Horford more involved in the offense for some time, and now that he’s the head coach, we’re going to see more than the “12 or 13 points” that former coach Mike Woodson wanted out of him. Bottom line: Larry Drew may see more offensive potential in Horford than most, and playing him more at PF as a way to realize that potential.
3) What happens if Al ends up playing more center and less power forward than planned, out of necessity?
Horford has already remarked that he thinks the team presents quite a few matchup problems for opposing teams when he, Josh, and Marvin are in the game at their current respective positions. But he also talks of needing some help in the form of another center. Here’s the good thing, though: those short one-liner answers to the question are frequently met with the assertion that he KNOWS he will be playing center, and does not have a problem with it. I don’t think we need to worry at all about his mindset or how he sees himself position-wise until he starts talking and playing with a similar attitude as Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudamire (two big-time post players who don’t want anything to do with playing the center position), something I do not expect him to do. Then again, the day he starts putting up numbers anything like theirs while playing as a power forward would be the day the Hawks better get serious about adding a quality player at center who meshes well with Horford (translation: a minimum contract guy that doesn’t get signed until late July or August isn’t going to cut it anymore).
4) Playing more power forward, is this on offense or defense, or both? Where is Josh Smith when this happens?
Again, I’m guessing here. Before answering, I just about have to ask another question- but I’ll get to that in a second. I think it will be Zaza who plays center while Al is at the 4 spot, but that will depend on both offensive and defensive matchups. Larry Drew will probably go about this this the smart way by experimenting in training camp, practice, preseason, and in regular season games, to an extent. In other words, he will try different combinations of Al and somebody else at center, in an effort to create, exploit, and change matchups as the game dictates. Or, he will strike first by trying to dictate to opposing defenses. Either way, it should be interesting. As for the second half of that question, it’s a topic we always seem to try and avoid, but just can’t get away from.
If Al is playing the PF spot, particularly on offense…then Josh Smith can only be at one of three places – center, on the bench, or at (you guessed it) small forward. The former isn’t all that likely, and the latter will most definitely add fuel to a fire that has been burning for a while in blogdome.
5) Who will play center while Horford is playing power forward?
This comes down to matchups, in the end. Matchups on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. There will be times where Al is playing the 4 on offense, but playing the 5 on defense. Or vice versa, perhaps. Against bigger and stronger teams, I’m thinking we will see Pachulia or Collins at the 5. Of course, this also depends on what kind of players the opposing team has at power forward, as Al may or may not have trouble covering some of the quicker power forward types in the league, especially the ones who like to drift out to the perimeter and do their damage there. If he is in the game against a team that features this type of player, he may be better served playing the 5 on defense. Also, don’t be surprised to see Josh Powell get some time at the 5 against certain teams. If the free agent forward can hold his own against some of the less rugged big men, and the matchup is favorable, look for Drew to try this combination.
Ok, Your Turn…
Same five questions. YOUR answers.