Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THHB Special Commentary: Trade Al Horford

(Hi. I'm Jason Walker, founder and editor of The Human Highlight Blog. The following is a personal commentary and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the dozens that bring THHB to you daily.)

The Atlanta Hawks limit the production and role of one of the efficient players on their team, a player who could give the offense balance and stability and in turn improve the efficiency of the players around him all of which leading to further success for the franchise.

The problem is the Atlanta Hawks don't care.

That's why the Hawks need to stop the charade and trade Al Horford before his time on the team runs out.

The Atlanta Hawks have a productive, energetic front court player who is on the tip of everybody's tongue when it comes to listing top young players in the Eastern Conference, but their actions indicate that they don't see things the same way.

Horford is being wasted nightly by the Hawks, especially in the critical part of any NBA game (the fourth quarter). His offensive touches are limited to cameo appearances and hustle plays and whatever other crumbs come from the Lords of the Philips Arena Manor.

In Mike Woodson's offense, the ball starts and often ends with the Backcourt. Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, and now Jamal Crawford have formed a cabal from which games are either won or lost. We have seen through the seasons of Hawks effectiveness (2007-current) that the approach of isolating and taking defenses on 1 on 3 cannot scale to beat the better teams in the league, especially in the playoffs.

It's a shame that Horford's all-star status even in the froncourt talent poor Eastern Conference has to explained in great detail to support his inclusion, such as here (h/t Hoopinion). On any team that plays from the inside-out or gives more than the fleeting thought of post-play basketball combined with his abilities and production rate, Horford would be a no-brainer part of the Eastern All-Stars.

The culprits behind this are his own teammates, coaches, and front office.

His backcourt teammates, who have blinded themselves with their own self-worth that they cannot allow others to impede on their shot attempts throughout the game. They are the ones that insist on passing the ball to each other, calling their own numbers late in games, and toss up ridiculously contested shots as if they are the only ones worthy of winning a game for the franchise. They are the ones that ignore the pleading requests of their coaches to pound the ball into the post, regardless of the effectiveness of such an approach.

The irony of the Backcourt hoarding possessions is that when you have a post player of Horford skills, it improves the types of shots the Backcourt gets. Horford's passing is better than average and can be used in the high and low posts to get all kinds of shots. But the Hawks would rather use Al to set screens and run away from their isolation and wait for the result of their precious jump shots. It's a sad waste of a great talent.

Yet the coaching staff offers nothing but shoulder shrugs when analyzing their late game woes and seem more than happy continuing in this failing offensive approach. They offer no change of roles or gameplan, no difference in philosophy and, in turn, no change in the results.

When the Hawks have had the greatest success this season, it has been because they have been more willing to go into the paint and eschew the easy jump shot philosophy. When they struggle, as they have more recently, it's due to the abandonment of said approach and the increased willingness of the guards (and coaches) to try and shoot their way to victory.

The front office has been reticent to extend Woodson's contact even in the face of great early season success and premature calls for the Hawks coach to be awarded Coach of the Year. Perhaps they have seen the same lack of adjustment and wasting of efficiency and talent and the subsequent struggling that accompanies the same old, same old. We would note that they helped doubled-down in the offseason by acquiring Crawford, who has spent his career in the same mold as Joe Johnson.

We don't indict Crawford because early in the season there was a sense of balance--and the staff's use of Jamal was controlled. Now, they have thrown Crawford into their failing fourth quarter strategy and Jamal is simply following their instructions and guidance (or lack of it).

A simple check of Hoopdata or Baseketball Reference can show the error in the Hawks ways and their slip from early season efficiency. This is no aberration.  We have seen the limitations of Woodson and the Backcourt's approach to games. We have also seen the potential and production in working past that paradigm and into the inside-out offensive attack.

Which brings us back to Horford. That Horford is treated as a minor part of the team's offensive strategy is unfortunate but not unexpected given this staff and roster's history and proclivity to marginalize the frontcourt's role offensively throughout the game and especially in the fourth quarter..

It's important to note that these same biases and labels from some of these same teammates that sent Josh Childress over the edge, complaining of being called "the energy guy" and being routinely ignored as a valid part of the offensive philosophy on the court from his own peers.

Such an attitude towards a very productive part of the team left the Hawks with nothing for their former lottery pick and his production. It's that kind of short-sighted inactivity and lack of intervention/change that Mark Bradley correctly (if indirectly) notes took the Hawks longer just to get to this point than a team like the Thunder. (Again, H/T to Hoopinion).

As Horford's free agency time approaches, I'm left left with two prevailing thoughts:

Why should the Hawks pour money into a player/position that they see as only a hustle role? Why pay max money when you have no intention to use the player in such capacity?

Why should Horford even think about re-signing with a team that has such an obviously low opinion of his value to the team----and that opinion is the one that is expressed on the court, gentleman, not what you spit out when the recorders are in your face.

Unless the Hawks make a change to their approach towards these types, then money spent on Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Horford are wasted capital.

So we say, trade Al Horford now. Get another guard who can give you three or four options in the fourth quarter to fire away to victory if that's the path you are committed/married to.

I believe in Al Horford. I believe he can be the cornerstone of the Hawks' offensive approach and make the entire team more productive in the process. I believe he is a slightly lesser version of Karl Malone, who can beat you low, off the pick and roll, with his passing, and on the break. The Hawks obviously don't agree, as evidenced by their actions, so I say this to the franchise I love so much:

Don't waste this guy's talent any longer---either get him to a team that has use for all of his skills and get something for him or get off your collective rear ends and change your philosophies to do so yourselves.


CoCo said...

I agree completely. I do not want to see Al's talents wasted and I firmly believe he is further developed than it appears. He's just being horribly misused/underused. Maybe they don't know he's actually an asset to their team. He should stand up and introduce himself. "Hi my name is Al Horford, I'm bilingual, I'm a 2 time national champion, I play hard even though you give me no incentive to do so, the team hasn't missed the playoffs since my arrival, nor did they make it prior to my arrival, I avg a double double by simply hustling, and I would gladly be a part of your offense if you'll let me. Again, my name is Al Horford. Oh, I'm also the guy who guards the guards who blow past the rest of you".

Jason Walker said...

Wonderfully stated, CoCo.

RivBoatGambler said...

CoCo that was great. Great post by Mr. Walker. When it comes to the Hawks I always say - feed a big -get a win.

Even Marvin can be effective when we play with balance as shown in the Cats game. Best played game of the year against the #1 defense in the league.

Jason Walker said...


Amen. At least that's the basketball church I pray in, you know?

Sports Chump said...

Interesting take.

As a Florida grad, I'm a huge Horfy fan.

I don't see them moving Horford but if it were to happen I think they'd highly regret it.

I think Atlanta, as solid as they are, is still struggling to find an identity. That might show itself in June once again.

Hey, dig the site and would be interested in exchanging blogrolls if you're so inclined.

Hit me up at

Jason Walker said...

Sports Chump,

I definitely think they would regret losing Horford--but it's possible if they continue to devalue him that he could decide to go where he can be used more completely.

The fact that his all-star status has to be debated in the weak Eastern Conference center situation is frustrating.

His Usage Rate went up to a good level in the last game against Charlotte and they had the easiest time they have had recently with that tough matchup. It was a good start, hopefully they'll not forget how effective using the post, and a talent like Horford, can be.