There’s a problem with combines and scouting reports. There’s a problem when teams are swayed by 40 times and vertical leaps and resumes that read, “Four-time All-Global,” and they’re moved to scream on draft day: “We’ve found our savior! Get me marketing!”
Nothing can tell you what’s in a kid’s cranium.
The 199th selection turns into Tom Brady. The No. 1 pick mutates into Kwame Brown. The best general managers have to be lucky.
The Hawks are fortunate. They guessed right two years ago with the third pick in the NBA draft. It turned out to be Al Horford.
“Only a very small percentage of young guys can come into this league and lead,” Joe Johnson said. “The ones who do usually are the focal point of their team. Al’s different.”
Horford is different because he’s leading and he’s not the Hawks’ offensive centerpiece, like Chris Paul in New Orleans or LeBron James in Cleveland. He’s different because he’s 23 years old, and not nearly acting his age.
He’s different because he’s a second-year pro and leading this team — often by example, sometimes by his words, even in the face of a veteran teammate.
Yes, that has happened.
How many second-year pros do that?
“I did it at Florida when I felt I had to,” Horford said Thursday. “I did it in high school. Here, I’ve done it a couple of times.”
Anticipating the next question, he quickly veered left: “I’m not going to name names. But if I see that somebody is not necessarily putting in the effort or is slacking off and it’s noticeable, I’m going to say something. Usually I’m very mellow. But sometimes I think something needs to be said, even if I put it out there in front of the whole team, even to the point where the guys might be mad at me for a day or two. I think it’s for the best.”
It’s dangerous to make such proclamations so early in a player’s career. But in terms of having the whole package — maturity, leadership and athletic ability at such a young age — Horford is for the Hawks what Matt Ryan is for the Falcons. The franchises will go as they go.
After extended mid-season hiccups, the Hawks are rolling again. They won their seventh straight Thursday night, 95-87 over Dallas at Philips Arena. They are on pace for 49 wins, their most in 11 seasons.
Horford is only the team’s fifth leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. But he has stepped up his offensive game in the post, averaging 16 points in the past 13 games (four times over 20 in that stretch). He also leads the team in rebounding.
Strange. But on a team with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Bibby, Horford has evolved into arguably the Hawks’ most indispensable player. They are 35-19 with him in the lineup, but only 6-9 in games he has missed entirely or played limited minutes because of injury.
“It’s pretty much up to him what he wants to do in this league,” said Bibby, who’s in his 11th season.
Among the team’s young core, there is lingering debate about who Smith is and what Marvin Williams can be. But there is no debate about Horford. He transitioned to the NBA better than most rookies last season, or any season. He credits that to staying at Florida a year longer than he had to.
“I didn’t feel I was mentally ready for the NBA grind,” he said. “Then being part of a championship team, I know what it felt like to be chased all the time. It was good for me.”
Unfortunately in sports, the answers about an athlete don’t come until after direct deposit. With Horford, the answers came early.