Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Player Hopes - Al Horford, you're up

Since there isn't much left to say about the Hawks offseason, it's time to do some overviews of the players and what we want to see in 2009-10.

Before we do that, a few housekeeping items:

1. It looks like there are rumors we'll be adding Jason Collins and possibly another player or two to the roster before it's all said and done. Can I advocate for Ramon Sessions or even Flip Murray still? Yes, I know we aren't spending more than veteran minimums, but man - I can dream of us being overloaded with talent and letting Woodson deal with an embarrassment (for the Hawks) of riches.
2. Until the season starts, just warning everyone now that some fantasy football talk may find itself on the blog. Gotta keep the consistency of writing intact...let's go Matt Forte! Sorry, but that is my theme for this year.
3. If the Minnesota Timberwolves are my team, I'm thrilled we have a new coach, Al Jefferson, Jonny Flynn, and a new owner. I'm sad that we actually picked a guy with our first pick a guy that won't be available to us for 2 years when there were talents that we needed to add to the squad now. Actually, while we're talking about this, I won't be surprised if a team like San Antonio or Toronto finds a way to trade for Rubio's rights and waits for him to end up being a star in a few years. Speaking of which, knowing our point guard situation isn't settled (read: I'm not sold on Teague as a star point guard prospect any more than I was sold on Acie Law IV) - would it be ideal for the Hawks to try to get Rubio to take over for Bibby a few years from now?

Ok, enough housekeeping...on to Al 'Boss' Horford,

Positives: Strong, Professional, Plays Defense, A Winning Personality/Demeanor, Possibly a Shane Battier type (meaning he makes the team better when he's on the court despite any numbers that prove it), Hard Worker

Negatives: Low Post Offense has yet to develop (whether it b/c of the team style, coaching philosophy, or talent level is up for debate), Low Post Defense is affect by his playing out of position

This year's outlook: It's hard to say what Al Horford will become because we are playing him a position that hides his abilities. It would be a joy to watch Horford guard power forwards in this league and to see if he could produce points against power forwards in our system. Now, Horford could still be a scorer in this league, but only if the goal is for him to beat centers up the floor and score buckets. Unfortunately, we don't run enough for that to be something we can count on, so we continue to see Horford as a valued Emeka Okafor.

No one seems to have a complaint about Al Horford - everyone loves Al. I even love Al, but what I have to keep saying is - even if Woodson doesn't give him the touches - you should be able to see the talent oozing from him to the point where more than a few times a season - even the coach shouldn't be able to hold him back. And yet, I've only seen about 3 games where I saw Al Horford dominate a game. I've seen Josh, Joe, and even Marvin show that they have ability to dominate a game. In fact, I've seen that from Flip Murray on more than a few stretches.

So, while I appreciate his consistency and steadiness, I want Al to be a star. I've yet to see his star shine enough to make me feel better about his consistency than I feel about Josh's obvious untapped talents in every way (save the decision to take jump shots). Is there something that I'm missing? if so, please chime in. Is it simply the system, the coach, or is it Al? Bottom line, we need Al to become a 18 and 12 guy in order for us to seriously contend for the top 4 in the East and to push for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Does he have it in him?


Jesse said...

I would really like to see Horford become that 20/10 guy I think we need down low, but in the current system, I'm not sure that's possible. So instead, I'll settle for 15/10, because I see no reason why his rebounding should be affected by the offensive system in place. He is immensely talented and on most nights it gets him by, but he could improve his low post game and work on his jumper range. But really, outside of that (which really isn't that much of an issue to begin with because he's a fundamentally sound player) I think his overall game is sound. He runs the court faster and better than just about every 5 in the game, he's more physical than a good bit of 5's and some 4's, and it has been shown that if he gets close to 15 touches, he's more than likely going to drop a double-double.

Horford is only in his third season, so all he has to do is keep getting better at the little things, add a couple more post moves, and if he gets more looks, we could be looking at a very solid 20/10 guy.

thirdfalcon said...

I'm more interested in him improving his rebounding than anything else. Last year he was the fifth option at best, and I haven't seen anything from him that makes me believe he's ever going to be a monster scorer. I'd take 13 and 11 from him next year happily.

And I think it would be fine if he did that his whole career. It wouldn't keep you from winning a championship imo. He would be a role player, but I think we all need to admit that he isn't going to be a star player.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Jesse, well, I think the contrast of having Al Horford as a fundamentally sound player vs. some of the raw talent that we've had is what makes us overrate Al. Listen, I love what Al brings to this team, but I think there are times when the system becomes an excuse for Al.

There are nights system be damned...Josh Smith looks like the best thing smoking on the court (Joe Johnson and whoever the opposition's best players are). I am rarely moved to believe that Horford has the skill set to be the best man on the court on a given night. That shouldn't be looked at as a putdown - just the reality that going into his 3rd season - the glimpses of future stardom should be littered throughout these seasons. I can't think of a player who went through college, won titles, and then was drafted as high as Horford who then 'broke out' much later in his career. I think he just 'is who he is'. I like Al, I just don't love Al's production. I wouldn't be sad to lose Al's potential in the way I'd be sad to lose Josh's potential.

I say all of this and still believe that yes, Woodson puts a governor on our frontcourt's ability to fly and i don't see that changing at all unless the frontcourt shoots more jump shots. If there's anything that is clear, if you can shoot jumpers and make them - you can get touches. Being a 5 and short of being Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon - I don't want my 5 shooting jumpers - but it looks like that's what Al and Josh were working on this offseason.

But as I always say, let's hope I'm completely off base on this.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@TF, As a note - I agree 100% with your assessment. I would add that I'd love to see Al at the 4 next to a decent 5 and see what his production would be. I struggle to determine the best course of action with Josh and Al. Do you want consistently solid or wild swings of adulation and frustration? I personally like consistent, but as we see with guys like Lamar Odom or certain superstars - you are more likely to win with the talent that can raise to championship levels than ones that are a notch below, but are consistent.

I'm afraid of how we'll work through that issue. I don't see a Horford/Smith 5/4 tandem taking us to a title. that's another blog for another day.

Jesse said...

I'm not saying that Horford is or will be, the best player on the court. I firmly believe on talent alone, that is reserved for Josh Smith, and based on reality, that's still reserved for JJ. But what I am saying is that if you consider Josh to be the ridiculously talented yet ridiculously inconsistent end of the spectrum and JJ is the complete solid consistent opposite end, then I would place Horford somewhere in the middle. He's got the talent to be that borderline All-Star, but he lacks the elite skills to push for it on a nightly basis.

No, he most definitely is not going to be a 20/10 player, not under Woody, and possibly not under anyone. No front court player under Woody would be because he has no sets that are designed for the front court. His system relies hevily on guard isolation and long range. But, I believe that Horford would be able to push for that 20/10 if in a system that utilizes the front court as an option in the offense, instead of an afterthought only considered by the players on the court when they see an opening.

That's why I said my expectations for Horford for this year are 15/10. Drew ran the numbers last year that showed when Horford had ten or more touches, he dropped a double-double and we almost always won. When he didn't get the touches, he was practically non-existent in the stat sheet.

Larry, I completely disagree with your statement about coming from college and not producing right away. Here's one for you, Michael Jordan. To say that there is no room for improvement just because the team he played on won some championships in college means that you believe the game is the same at both levels, and I know that can't be true. The Hawks drafting him high doesn't mean that he should be an all-star right away. He didn't choose to be drafted in the top ten, the Hawks did, so you can't put that on him.

He was second in ROY voting and there were multiple games throughout last season that I've already mentioned where he has shown that he can be a second level star. But you have to give him some time to improve. Look at Marvin, he improved vastly from year two to year three.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...

@Jesse, I think we largely agree on Horford, so I'm not going to quibble about the points made, but we're going disagree on your closing points.

the point I made is that if we thought Al Horford was going to be a star - we'd have GAMES (at least 10-15) where there's no doubt - no Woodson intervention or system - that you saw evidence that he could be a star. Stars show their talent. When does this not apply..well, almost exclusively to these high school to pro, 1 and done players. In general, guys who are coming from college are not making the leap from ok to superstar without you seeing it fairly quickly. So, you bring up Marvin and I'd say - improvement wasn't what I was questioning.. I'm saying that Marvin hasn't ever shown that he'll be a star in this league. Hasn't taken over one game to make me feel like he's a star. He'll be a solid pro, not a star. I only recall one game last year where Horford looked like a star and that was against Chicago early in the season. He looked dominant that one game, but that's it.

To put Michael Jordan in that category is completely faulty b/c there wasn't any doubt by anyone that he wasn't a star - the guy was averaging 20pts a game as a rookie, then got hurt, then came back as a ridiculous force. So, I'm saying that you KNEW MJ was a star. The evidence of that fact was written all over this college and pro career.

Jesse said...

Well then, I guess it's all in how one interprets the definition of things. If by a star you mean on the level of Kobe, MJ, LeBron, etc, then obviously that would be nigh impossible for Horford. If by star you simply mean a perennial All Star, then as I've stated all along, I still don't think he would be that. But, if by a star you mean borderline All Star each year, well then, that's what I would agree on. So, based on that, you feel as though he hasn't shown anything to be on one of those levels, whereas I think that he has shown us that he can be at best the lowest of those three stated "star" levels.

Just look at the numbers from last year alone and you will see plenty of games where he either did or was close to putting up 20/10. If all you need is ten to fifteen games, then here ya go:

Date Opp PTS/RB
11/11 @CHI 27/17
11/26 MIL 21/9
11/29 @WAS 19/13
12/5 NYK 14/9
12/9 @HOU 14/8
12/15 CHA 12/14
12/29 DEN 16/10
12/30 @IND 12/14
2/18 @SAC 18/18
2/25 @DEN 21/11
2/27 @MIA 21/22
3/2 @WAS 16/8
3/4 @NYK 20/13
3/6 @CHA 15/7
3/7 DET 18/12
3/13 IND 17/15
3/17 SAC 23/12
3/23 MIN 12/13
4/3 @BOS 14/8
4/4 ORL 13/13
4/7 @TOR 15/12
4/8 @MIL 19/9
4/10 IND 22/15

That’s 23 games where Horford was putting up some solid numbers. And you can’t ignore the system because it does indeed play a large role in how our front court players are not used. I agree that Horford is not on the same level of a Kobe or LeBron or Paul, but even with those players the system is a large part of their production because it’s designed to incorporate those players as much as possible. Woodson’s system is designed around the back court exclusively. There are no designed sets that include the front court as a focus. So, imagine all the games that I didn’t list where Horford scored a double-double and now you can see why I believe Horford could easily be on the next level up as a bonafide All Star if he was utilized. I truly believe that Woodson’s system hides and blurs many of the positives of the players on this team when it comes to the front court, but that’s simply my opinion.

Heck, even in this system I think there is room for improvement in his game, which was my original point. Looking at things as they currently stand, I see no reason why Horford could not be a solid 15-10 guy if he improves his low post moves and assert himself more on the defensive side.

ATL_Hawk_Luv said...


I don't think numbers are going to be able to sway me (though I appreciate the attempt) from my feeling on Horford. I'm going to have to see it on the court and as much as I blame Woodson for things - the system can't account for all of it. As I said, I give the system some credit for the lack of production, but it doesn't change the eye-ball test on Horford's skills.

Here's all I'm saying - I'm not predicting that Horford cannot be a great player. I'm saying simply - I've watched Horford and I am not wowed by his ability to the point that I think he will justify the adulation many Hawks fans heap upon him as an up and coming star.

So, I am dismissing the system insomuch that I'm saying that I would SEE his talent even if Woodson put a governor on its production. To be sure, Okafor averages a double-double (a better one than Horford) and no one would say that the Bobcat system was holding Okafor back - he's just a solid pro. Same for a Troy Murphy - been putting up double doubles for years...he's not a star, just a solid pro. I think we've been deprived of solid pros in Atlanta for so long that we tend to overrate solid pro and make it star or we overrate low level star and make Joe Johnson a superstar.

If I'm going the way of your star status levels - sure, he could be a potential All Star...but that's a function of so many things, though. So, I'm saying he needs to make major leaps to be considered a star to me, not just getting better at little things that continue his run as a solid pro. I need to see him dominate games. There are several players who aren't superstars who can do that.

So, when I see the bulk of those #s you provided most are not what I'd call dominating numbers (I'd call about 6 of those games dominant..backed up by me going to my game recaps for those games to see how I felt about them), so I think I'm going to stay with my assessment, but trust - most of what you say is true. I just don't think he's any kind of star, just a solid pro.

Jesse said...

Fair enough, and really I think in the end we are saying the same thing. Right this moment, no he is not a star imo. But, I think he has the ability and talent to become that borderline All Star within the next few years, and that's what I was attempting to illustrate with the numbers.

And you are right, it's definitely more than just numbers when considering a player as a bonafide star in this league. Just relyig on memory here, even in some of those statistically 'dominating' game, I'm not really recalling a lot of pure true domination by Horford, but rather the team was running more on the break and taking advantage of openings for Horford down low. And without going back and reviewing tape for the 70 or so games he was in, there's not a solid way to evaluate his presence.

This is also the reason I like using advanced statistics so much. It allows you to better evaluate a player without relying so heavily on film. The NBA is probably the worst pro sport in relation to stats because there are so many things players do that are not tracked that will greatly impact the game. Maybe later when I get some free time I will dig through the numbers some more and see what we come up with.

Either way, good discussion sir!

thirdfalcon said...

I think the best course of action would be to get a starting caliber center along the lines of Marcus Camby, and use him, Josh, and Al in a 3 man rotation where they each play about 30 minutes.

Camby is just the name I threw in, but it could be any true center that can score down low and block shots. This would give us great variety and depth among our big men.

The obstacle is of course that we don't know how Horford would handle coming of the bench. Although if he's not then perhaps he's not the man we think he is. The other is money, although I think that Camby would end up signing or significantly less money than his current contract. But that's what I would do.

Jesse said...

That's more of a positional solution. So, working within the confines of the team we currently are presented with, what do you hope to get out of Horford this season?