Monday, February 1, 2010

THHB Conversation With: Al Horford

Much to our surprise, delightfully so, last Thursday Al Horford was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. THHB was all set to explain why we thought Al was going to go unrecognized at that level. We were going to point to the obvious underuse, the lack of looking past at raw numbers to decide merit and standing in the NBA. We now happily send that opinion to the Recycle Bin.

So, what happened? Well, it looks as if the hard work and efficiency doesn't get lost in the stats. At Florida, Al also posted "low" numbers due to the amount of talent and distribution of offensive wealth among the back-to-back champions. Horford was confident as he entered the NBA that he could do even more at the pro level, but was immediately met with challenges with his new job.

In addition to adjusting to the speed and power of the pro game, Horford had to deal with playing where he called "out of position" in the center spot. This move caused Al to temper his perception of how far he could go in the league.

"Playing out of the position can be difficult to reach certain goals," noted Horford. He was unsure, even going into his second season, that staying at the center position was going to benefit him in terms of statistics and efficiency.

After Horford's rookie season, GMs changed, with Rick Sund replacing Billy Knight. Sund, however, firmly believes that Horford can be a difference maker--at center---and set about, with the help of his head coach, in convincing the willing big man that he can achieve his goals--even at center.

"Talking with GM Rick Sund and Coach Woodson they always had confidence that I could play in this position and be an all star," confirmed Horford.

Horford has excelled, though he routinely gives ground in height and weight most every night out. Still, in Atlanta's uber switching defense, Horford just as readily defends guards as centers. His quick feet and lower body power helps him on defense, but Al still is troubled by going up against taller, longer players when he gets the ball offensively.

Horford agrees: "No question—but I feel like I have gotten better playing them (taller guys)---there’s still a size disadvantage but I feel I try to use my size and quickness little things that those guys aren’t able to do."

THHB has been campaigning for the Hawks to work the ball inside out for the last couple of seasons---and now such a strategy involves including Horford as a channel through which to work the ball. His good hands, nice passing touch, and growing ability inside makes him an efficient method for which the Hawks could create good possessions. Recently, Mike Woodson has seen fit to push the ball more through this route--and Horford is ready.

"Coach has shown confidence in me in key parts of the game. He wants the ball in the post and he wants me (and Josh Smith) to be able to make plays," says Horford.

"I don’t think that my rookie year these are the things I was ready to do."

In all, Horford has made his mark in three short seasons, at a position he didn't know for sure if he could be this kind of success. His hard work, energy, and athleticism has gotten at least the coaches' attention. While he may have had more Usage elsewhere, he has definitely benefited from being on a talented, visible, growing team--an advantage he does not ignore.

"I’m thankful for all my teammates for making it easier for me. We try to make each other look good—I set them up and they set me up in return."

THHB thanks Al Horford and the Hawks Media Relations Staff for access for this interview. Follow up questions and opinions can be filed in the Comments Area.