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Top 50 NBA Players: #24 Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks Season Preview)

Al Horford
Resume: 17.4 points (career best), 10.2 rebounds (8th in league, career best), 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals (career best), 1.1 blocks, 37.2 minutes (career best), 43 double-doubles (6th in league), 54% FG (10th in league), and 64% FT… Team record in games played: 42-32 (2-6 without)… Playoffs: 16.7 points (career best), 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steal, 36.3 minutes, 49% FG, 67% FT, 2-4 record

Time to kill two birds with one stone: You wanted to see why I ranked Al Horford the 24th best player in the NBA? You’ve come to the right place! Looking for a season preview for the Atlanta Hawks? Look no further!

The Atlanta Hawks have spent the last two summers overhauling a roster that brought those oh so enthusiastic Hawks fans a half a decade of complete irrelevance in the Eastern Conference. Sure, the Hawks have made the playoffs every season since drafting Al Horford, but they have never resembled any type of legitimate threat to make a deep playoff run. They advanced to the 2nd round three straight times from 2009 to 2011, but twice got swept out of the round in convincing fashion. Rarely have the Hawks stuck with it, played hard and put up a good fight in defeat. They belong to the roll over and die persuasion. In the six postseason series they have lost over the last six years, their average margin of defeat is a whopping 18.2 points per game. They weren’t locked in hard fought battles that could’ve gone either way; they were unceremoniously spanked. Only four of their 24 playoff defeats were decided by single digits. Needless to say, changes had to be made in order to get out of the rut they were clearly stuck in.

Mar 24, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Atlanta won 104-99. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve had a rough day and need to laugh, here is your opportunity to do so. After striking out with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, the Hawks went forward with the attempt to eliminate themselves from mediocrity by removing the bulk of their key players and rebuilding a roster that accidentally, or perhaps purposely, who knows, will be no better than mediocre and no worse than not quite terrible enough to get a high lottery draft pick. To put it short and sweet, they are in the place that no NBA team wants to be. They’ll finish somewhere between 6th and 9th in the Eastern Conference—I tentatively have them slotted as the 8th seed, which means Hawks fans have two additional games to go to and not be loud at—robbing them of the chance to truly contend or completely bottom out and start from scratch.

The Hawks have replaced the likes of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Marvin Williams with Paul Millsap (an honorable mention honorable mention), Elton Brand, Lou Williams and Dennis Schröeder (a few words of advice: if you’re looking for a Rookie of the Year longshot, investigate the 33/1 shot Schröder). Like I explained, that’s nothing that will drastically alter the direction of the team. If anything, there may be a bit of a step back without both Smith and Johnson, but with Al Horford still in town and coming off a career season, the Hawks will still contend for a playoff spot.

Horford came back from injury and put together his most complete season to date. He’s become exactly what the Hawks could’ve wanted when they used the 3rd pick of the 2007 Draft (one spot after Kevin Durant, which would’ve solved all of Atlanta’s problems); a pretty reliable scorer from anywhere inside the three point line, a monster on the boards, and a great team player. Never once has Horford seemed overwhelmingly mismatched or the blame of Atlanta not being able to get past the 2nd round. He’s been steady and dependable, and over the 2nd half of the season last year there might not have been a better center in the league. Horford put the Hawks on his back, turned into a 20 points, 11 boards per night guy and shot 55% from the field while doing so.

Playing under new head coach Mike Budenholzer, it’s expected that the Hawks will implement an offense that is similar to that of the San Antonio Spurs, where Budenholzer was an assistant since 1996. That means a lot more ball movement, player movement and pick and rolls than we were accustomed to watching with the Hawks, who played as much one-on-one as any team in the league. Horford’s skill set fits extremely well within this new system. Able to score rolling to rim or popping out after setting a screen, he’ll have a lot of opportunities to make plays for himself or his teammates. (His ability to pass out of the high post remains the most underrated aspect of Horford’s game.)

For six seasons Horford thrived without the responsibility of carrying the team on his back. For five seasons Joe Johnson was mistakenly cast as “the man,” and last season Josh Smith was given that title. It’s now on Horford to take a leadership role for the new look Hawks.

sonnygiuliano