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Sports

Hawks Need to Make Al Horford Focus of Offense

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The Atlanta Hawks picked up another valuable win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night extending their current winning streak to four games thanks in no small part to the play of center Al Horford.

The former Florida Gator finished the night with 34 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocked shots in 42 minutes of action to lead the Hawks in scoring. Of course, Atlanta often focuses much of its energy on Horford’s front court star teammate Josh Smith, but J Smoove’s impact isn’t felt in the same way Horford’s is.

For starters, Smith tends to score a good amount of his points off jump shots and isn’t as instrumental in grabbing rebounds, a department that Horford leads the team in. If Smith were as effective around the basket as Horford, Atlanta would be better than 19th in the league in points in the paint. As it stands, there are several reasons to focus more on Horford than any other player on the Hawks roster right now, but here are three that stand out as the most important.

  1. When Big Al Shines, The Team Shines- It’s pretty simple. When Horford scores 20 or more points, the Hawks are 17-3. When Horford isn’t as big a part of the game plan and scores less than 20, Atlanta is 15-19. There is no harder evidence to support a need to switch up the game plan than results and these results point to the Hawks needing Horford’s production.

It’s somewhat remarkable when you consider that Horford has been playing out of position throughout almost his entire Atlanta career. Being placed along side Josh Smith as a center can’t be easy for the undersized (6-foot-10) Horford, who in a perfect world would play power forward for the Hawks. The expectation has been that he can control his foul numbers, rebound, score, set picks and show a reasonable amount of ability to pass the ball. He has done all that averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal per game while shooting 60% from the free throw line.

By focusing on his partner Smith, a somewhat malcontent power forward who is incredibly inconsistent and known to be too comfortable taking jump shots, the Hawks limit themselves to being at the mercy of the performances of a guy whose game changes on a whim. Smith isn’t a leader either as he showed last month getting suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and could be gone after this season in free agency. At that point, Horford has to become the focal point of the offense, so why wait? Why not show what he can do now and use Smith as a secondary piece, a role he is more suited for anyhow.

  1. Horford Is A Top 3 Center in Today’s NBA- We’ve established that Horford’s numbers are solid and his game well rounded, but we have to look at him in comparison to other centers and there is where he stands out. Aside from Dwight Howard, who are the dominant centers in this league? DeMarcus Cousins is on his way, but has too many disciplinary issues at present with his team. DeAndre Jordan looked like he may develop into something but continues to see his minutes drop with the Clippers just like his numbers. JaVale McGee is a backup in Denver, Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah are primarily known for what they do on defense while Brook Lopez and Omer Asik don’t boast Horford’s numbers. Andrew Bynum hasn’t played a game all season long and Anderson Varejao won’t sniff the court again til next year. Roy Hibbert has been a blocks machine, but hasn’t been as good offensively this season as he was last year. Nikola Vucevic has surprised many in Orlando, but he can’t carry a team the way Horford can, nor can Nikola Pekovic of Minnesota despite his impressive play.

In the end, Horford has to be mentioned alongside Howard and Marc Gasol as the one of the best all around centers playing the game today. Moreover, he joins Tim Duncan, JJ Hickson and Kevin Garnett as the best power forwards filling minutes at the center position for their teams. A guy like that is a piece you can build around and that is why Atlanta GM Danny Ferry is comfortable with the idea that Smith can leave in the summer for nothing.

  1. Atlanta Needs a Shakeup for the Playoffs-We’ve seen where the Hawks can get to with Smith leading the way. Atlanta hasn’t progressed past the Eastern Conference Semifinals with that formula, although I have to admit that some of that blame has to be steered toward Joe Johnson as well since he was the third star in the Hawks lineup throughout the last five years. However, in the final year of having Smith as a primary figure on the team, the Hawks would do well to refocus their game plan to be geared more toward Horford.

If they can establish his presence in each game they can contend and take some of the pressure off Smith. Without the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, Smith may actually be able to shine even brighter in the playoffs and inspire a fresh contract offer from Ferry.

If nothing else, the fact remains that Horford is your guy if you’re the Hawks. They’ve got him locked into a very reasonable contract at $12 million a year for the next four seasons. If you’re Danny Ferry and Larry Drew, you want Horford to believe that he can be the guy that you rebuild around and you want to make sure that he takes the next step and establishes himself as a bonafide star that will help them attract other free agents to Atlanta this summer. The best way to do that is make him the focal point of your offense and let him show what he can do. Give him the ball and let him play.

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