Al Horford an All-Star at center but he’s taking a beating

Al Horford, here with Joe Johnson, has taken charge and is an unexpected two-time All-Star at center.

Al Horford (with Joe Johnson) has taken charge and surprisingly is a two-time All-Star at center.

Have you ever seen or heard a 7-foot-1, 270-pound man beg? Stand near Tito Horford the next time he picks up the telephone to call the Hawks’ front office.

“I’ve been begging [general manager] Rick Sund and the Hawks for the last three years – please get a center so my son can pay his normal position,” the elder Horford said Tuesday from his home in the Dominican Republic. “He can’t push guys out of the box like I could. If he moved to forward, he would have a longer career.”

We suspected Al Horford would be a great NBA player. We watched him play on two national championship teams at Florida. It follows that when the Hawks drafted him third overall in 2007, we were overcome with the rarest of Hawks draft-day sensations: comfort.

But what has been stunning is that Horford has turned into an impact player at the wrong position. He just made the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second straight season as a center.

Granted, this isn’t the 1970s or ’80s and the NBA isn’t well-populated with dominant centers. Horford, at 6-10, 245, hardly captains the Lollipop Guild. But he still is playing out of position and succeeding only because of his sheer will, determination and talent.

How good would he be as a power forward?

“He’d be a beast,” coach Larry Drew said.

Horford is a rarity, not just on the Hawks but among athletes on Atlanta sports teams: He is universally embraced. Nobody thinks he underachieves or is overpaid. He is a leader. He is honest. When others have made excuses for losses, Horford has stepped forward and suggested too many teammates were operating as individuals and not within the framework of a team.

He reiterated Tuesday: “The great teams separate themselves because it’s more about the team and winning than everybody getting theirs. It’s a lot better here now than it was before. I think guys are starting to get it, but I don’t know if we’re quite there yet.”

A coach’s dream. A fan’s dream.

It would be nice if the Hawks could keep this guy around for a while. And upright.

He is taking a beating, particularly at the defensive end. Drew is trying to minimize the issue by going with a “big” lineup about 40 percent of the time: Horford moves to power forward, Josh Smith to small forward, Jason Collins steps in at center and Marvin Williams goes to the bench.

Drew admitted, “I’ve even thought of making the change permanent.”

Horford has stepped up his offensive game, averaging 16.2 points (his first three seasons: 10.1, 11.5, 14.2). We learned again Tuesday night how important he is to this team. With Horford a surprise late scratch for the second straight game with a sore back, the Hawks were drilled by Philadelphia 117-83 at Philips Arena. The team was missing Horford’s pulse (as well as seemingly several organs).

Horford was injured  Friday in Los Angeles when he was knocked to the ground by Blake Griffin. Drew said, “I didn’t even think he would be able to get up to shoot the free throws.” He did.

How long can he hold up like this? Horford said, “I don’t see myself playing center the rest of my career.”

His father, Tito, was a center (in college at LSU and Miami and later for three years in the NBA). He’s familiar with the banging that goes on in the lane. Horford has learned it the hard way.

“My dad was built for this,” he said. “It takes a toll on your body when you’re going against guys that outweigh you by 50, 60 pounds every night and have three, four inches on you.

“I feel pretty good now. But I wonder how I’ll feel a couple of years from now.”

Then came this novel idea: “I like playing against guys my own size.”

Imagine how good he would be then.

By Jeff Schultz

Also see:

Hawks lay an egg and Drew threatens lineup changes

Crowell’s recruitment aside, Washaun Ealey did this to himself

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

69 comments Add your comment

lanier

February 8th, 2011
4:59 pm

Jeff why dont they get him a true center seriously. Drew sees it

HawksFan86

February 8th, 2011
5:06 pm

Nice Article Jeff! Very relevant! Tito needs to keep calling! And Sund needs to LISTEN. Drew sees it, Tito sees it, the fans see it! And Al knows it! Please do something about this before its too late and Horford moves on to a better situation!

D A DoubleU G

February 8th, 2011
5:15 pm

Atlanta has an NBA team??

why??

What did we do wrong??

How do we get rid of it??

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 8th, 2011
5:22 pm

Al should be the face of Phillips as long as he desires.

moorman

February 8th, 2011
5:24 pm

at least drew is thinking about a PERMANENT solution. the hawks are basically all forwards and 3 guards. package teague and williams and get a center. teague is too tentative and williams can be replaced………….

Jamaaliver

February 8th, 2011
5:38 pm

@moorman:

Our team is basically 3 forwards and 3 guards. The rest of our team are all scrubs.

We could have gotten Shaq over the summer or drafted a Center with thefirst pick in the secound round. Alas, we saved some money and just signed Etan Thomas who never plays and re-signed Jason Collins who SHOULD never play.

Our GM is hamstrung by pur cheap, inept ownership. We go bargain basement shopping for everything. And we still need today what we’ve needed for the last 6 years: a Point Guard and a legitmate 7 footer at Center.

moorman

February 8th, 2011
5:42 pm

jamaaliver, i FORGOT they couldve gotten shaq. at least he wouldve game them REAL minutes at center. they couldve rotated him and collins and got a DECENT center by committee. i forgot that major gaffe by the hawks, and it wouldve have broken the bank to do it either. GOOD POINT…

Trojan

February 8th, 2011
5:59 pm

We are a good team that is poorly constucted team.

jeffrey d

February 8th, 2011
6:05 pm

package teague and williams and get a center. teague is too tentative and williams can be replaced………….

Have you ever considered writing the descriptions of entrees in restaurant menus? You really can really sell.

jeffrey d

February 8th, 2011
6:10 pm

i FORGOT they couldve gotten shaq. at least he wouldve game them REAL minutes at center

Wait, what? Shaq’s career is fading fast. He averaged 23 minutes last season (and only 53 games), and only 20 minutes this season (and has already missed 15 games)

Nate D

February 8th, 2011
6:22 pm

I like Al at either postion but to take the next step in the playoffs we need a true center.Vernon macklin at florida could be a great pickup at center. Move josh and al down and keep marvin just for bench or trade him. We should trade marvin for Andrw Bynum or Adrew Bogut.

Jt

February 8th, 2011
6:26 pm

A bonafide center is the next piece to be added. As valuable as Jamal is, Hawks did not re-sign him because they all know that a defensive presence in the middle is the next expenditure. Marvin has to accept going to the bench and coming in with the 2nd team- he can make his mark in that manner- plenty of players have. I think they are going to preserve Horford and maximize his abilities- he will dominate most 4’s in the league-both offensively and defensively

WeBurn

February 8th, 2011
6:29 pm

Horford will never move to pf unless we trade Josh Smith. Smoove isn’t smooth enough to play small forward full time, and he pouts too much to ever come off the bench.

GT Alum

February 8th, 2011
6:30 pm

My main problem with moving Horford to PF is while it may allow him to be even better, I still think moving Josh to SF will decrease the value the Hawks get from Josh.

You could trade Josh for a C, but I don’t know how much of a net improvement that will be, especially since most centers tend to miss a significant amount of time. The Hawks’ best opportunity to improve the team would probably be if they could trade Josh and Marvin and get a true center and a quality SF in return.

Either that, or get a C and move Josh to the bench. A starting lineup of Bibby-JJ-Marvin-Horford-C with Teague-Crawford-Wilkins-Smith-Pachulia along with Mo, Twin and Powell coming off the bench could be pretty potent. Just don’t know if Josh’s ego would allow that.

Jt

February 8th, 2011
6:37 pm

For ALL of his negatives, I would not get rid of Josh- he frustrates the hell out of me at times, but I would not give up on him yet. Hand it to him- he has improved his game every year- he works his tail off- he wants to win and loves ATL. He is too valuable- ask Horford or JJ

jlewis

February 8th, 2011
6:38 pm

Jeff:

What makes AL this great leader? The quote you attributed to him is the same things JJ said two years ago. His D is weak and he doesnt play hurt, perception and reality are two different different things.

GT Alum

February 8th, 2011
6:39 pm

Jt -

Actually, the reason the Hawks didn’t re-sign Crawford is because it would likely put them into the luxury tax next season. Horford’s getting a $6.5M raise next year. Add in raises of almost $2M for JJ and about $750K for Smoove, Marvin, Bibby and $500K for Pachulia, and the Hawks payroll next year is about $6M below this year’s payroll with only 8 players under contract. They’ll spend up to luxury tax levels just filling out the roster with guys like Evans, Collins, Powell, etc. If you’re expecting the Hawks to have money to go playing around in the FA market this summer, I think you’re going to be greatly disappointed.

Jt

February 8th, 2011
6:44 pm

GT I don’t expect them to sign a free agent- you can’t have but one player with a contract like JJ. But I do expect them to address the need-more than they have done in recent years with the likes of the current cast of characters at cheapest cost. Certainly there will be some serviceable big men available through some means. What I am hopeful of is there is some since of urgency that that aspect of their team needs to be addressed.

[...] I came to Hawks’ practice this morning to talk to Al Horford for a column I posted a couple of hours ago, fully expecting to update it after tonight’s game against Philadelphia. But that’s not an [...]

GT Alum

February 8th, 2011
6:54 pm

Well, if they don’t sign a FA, that means a trade. They could potentially trade Crawford at the deadline, but that doesn’t help their salary issues. Bibby’s expiring contract could have some trade value. I don’t know how much trade value Marvin has, considering he’s owed $23M the next 3 years. ZaZa could have value as an add-in, but he wouldn’t be the primary component of a trade. Then, Josh and Horford are our most attractive trade pieces, but they come with the drawback of we’d like to keep them.

Adrian J.

February 8th, 2011
6:57 pm

whats funny is ATL continues to rue their mistake of taking Marvin yet wont trade him for either a C or a PG. Do that trade and the team improves immediately. Do that trade a couple of years ago and Childress doesn’t leave. Still can look to trade Marvin for a C, now.

Jt

February 8th, 2011
7:00 pm

I think they are handcuffed this year and based upon Sund’s talk and mannerisms, they will go where this team takes them. Just provide enough success in qualifying for post-season and then try to increase hope for next year- keep fans hanging, even if they are always a little frustrated- name of the business

Beast from the East

February 8th, 2011
7:07 pm

I’m a Gator fan that moved to Atlanta some years back and I have beeen a Hawks fan every since they drafted Al. He is still the same humble, hard-working, team first player that he was at UF. A born leader that is willing do whatever it takes to help his team win. Hope the Hawks can find a big so Al can move to the PF position. I would love to see him play here for many years to come. He’s the type guy you want representing your team.
Go Gators and Go Hawks!

Beast from the East

February 8th, 2011
7:09 pm

Jeff,
Great post, even if I am just a little biased about Big Al!
Thanks!

Najeh Davenpoop

February 8th, 2011
7:26 pm

Today’s NBA is not Tito Horford’s NBA. Yes, it is a good idea to get a quality 5 so that Horford can start (or at least play big minutes) at the 4. But players with Horford’s size and skill set do play center for significant stretches in the NBA today, because there simply are not that many quality players who are bigger than Al. Against Dwight Howard and Shaq, of course you find a way to get Horford to the 4. Against the Spencer Haweses of the world, Horford is fully capable of playing the 5.

MaxxHawk

February 8th, 2011
7:31 pm

Yea, I’ve been saying this for years now. There’s nothing good about Al playing out of position. We need a Center BAD

Jody

February 8th, 2011
7:44 pm

Jeff,

Great article sir. If Horford plays his natural position, he’ll defenitely have a longer and better career. People can say that he should play the 5 because supposedly there aren’t many quality centers anymore. Well, the truth is the teams that contend for the title have quality, legit centers and those are the ones you have to beat if you want to win it all.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Denita, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Al Horford an All-Star at center but he’s taking a beating http://bit.ly/e0fmX5 [...]

prison mike

February 9th, 2011
12:00 am

Who do you play that outweighs you 50-60 pounds every night horf. Where are these 7-1 to 7-2 players that every team has. This guy is just soft defensively and would rather play perimeter defense. Chuck Hayes is 6-6 and 240 and handles his biz without dad chiming in trying to stir trouble.

ATLFAN

February 9th, 2011
12:03 am

If you’re an Atlanta/Georgia Sports fan and want to talk with other fans, check out our NEW message board.

http://www.atlsportsnation.com/forum

We have team forums for the Falcons, Bulldogs, Hawks, Braves, Yellow Jackets, Thrashers, etc. Please register and post! Be apart of a huge site in the early days of existence. See ya there! We’re looking for posters, moderators, bloggers/writers. Join up if interested.

P. Bull Terrier

February 9th, 2011
12:09 am

I don’t care if he is an All-Star, I’m still not jumping on the Al Horford bandwagon. It’s only a matter of time until the Hawks trade him for Aaron Gray, a dozen MARTA tokens, and a couple of hamburgers.

Whopper Dawg

February 9th, 2011
12:21 am

Isn’t it just a no brainer – he is the only class in this act. Better yet, trade him to a bona fide contender.

Atticus

February 9th, 2011
7:57 am

This franchise is going NOWHERE. They are good guys but so flawed. They just don’t play every night. Horford is being wasted. Drew was the cheap option, they still get nothing out of Teague and they don’t play enough defense.

Hawk gone

February 9th, 2011
8:13 am

Another poorly coached hawks team–they’ll be lucky to make it out of round 1. Losing to the lowly 76ers by 34 points? Are you serious??? They keep going cheap and hiring these worthless coaches—nothing will ever change. That’s why everyone calls atlanta loserville.

juice sourcer

February 9th, 2011
8:15 am

Another reason why the Hawks suck. He will leave when his contact runs out.

npgator

February 9th, 2011
8:25 am

Harford deserves some help!

npgator

February 9th, 2011
8:26 am

Horford (SP)

Jay

February 9th, 2011
8:53 am

To sum it all up, the Hawks are stuck but we’re not terrible.. W/ all the bad choices we made in the previous drafts, they are doing their jobs to me.. I love my Hawks but the writing is on the wall. We will make the playoffs, get to the 2nd round, & then it’s a toss up (as a true fan we can do it, in reality, it’s gonna take a helluva effort). We need a center & for Dwight Howard coming back to ATL, I would send Smith, Williams, Teague, money, cars, strippers, (well.. you catch my drift).. Come home DWIGHT!!!

Dawgfan79

February 9th, 2011
8:56 am

I wish the ASG would have the balls to trade Smoove for a PG or C.

Even an average PG and C would make this team much more well rounded.

Eric

February 9th, 2011
9:24 am

As soon as the Hawks trade Josh Smith it’ll go another 8 years without a playoff bid, like it did when the fans suggested it should trade Steve Smith and Mookie Blaylock for “Isiah Rider”. If anybody needs trading it’s Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia.

Road Scholar

February 9th, 2011
9:26 am

All the Hawks players should be docked a weeks play for that “game” they attended (not played) last night! This is not the first time they marauded as a pro team!

Buckeye

February 9th, 2011
9:41 am

Wow! Jeff changed the subject!

Tell the truth

February 9th, 2011
9:50 am

The jock sniffers have no desire to open their wallets for a good big man.

chem

February 9th, 2011
10:09 am

Al Horford is a center. The average height and weight for starting centers in the NBA is right around 6′11 and 240-250 lbs.

Nate ArchiBALL

February 9th, 2011
10:21 am

Al will do what it takes to win….except play center.
It might help if Al would bulk up in the off season.

ATL born and raised

February 9th, 2011
10:42 am

Josh, Marvin, & Teague for Bynum and Artest. Lakers want a change too. We get a big man who can play most of the games and a harassing defender to handle Lebron and Pierce.

steve brown

February 9th, 2011
10:50 am

The Thrashers have shown that you can play guys at any position and still be effective-not! This may come as a surprise but players do better when they play the position they are suited for. The only people who don’t seem to get this are our owners, GM’s and the Thrasher coaches. Drew seems to understand this simple idea.

Anti-ATLSpirit

February 9th, 2011
11:19 am

In typical moronic fashion, the Atlanta Spirit Group has not and will not bring in a true center to allow Al Horford to move his natural position. This would improve the team and and protect their investment in Al for long term returns. It only makes good business sense, but the ASG wouldn’t know “good business sense” if it ran over them on I-75.
The head coach Larry Drew is quoted in this article as contemplating moving Al to 4 (PF) “permanently”.

I ask WHAT IS TAKING SO LONG? Al is getting his brains beat in!
This organization has proven it’s ineptitude 10 times over.
When Al begins to breakdown in a couple more years and ASG is “confused” how this could happen…
We (the fans & Tito Horford) can all come back and say “I TOLD YOU SO”, idiots!

Pete

February 9th, 2011
11:49 am

Against the 6′ers the Hawks looked like a bored, tired, over rated, over paid bunch of sorry, spoiled American brats………….called pro athletes.

A completre joke.

Joycee Banicheck

February 9th, 2011
12:00 pm

Joe Johnson doesn’t care what any of you think, remember that.