Thursday, May 28, 2009

2008-09 Season Review: Al Horford

Al Horford's season is fairly straightforward to recap: He's a delight to watch on both ends of the floor, he's not a big enough part of the offense, and that fact combined with the time he missed due to injury might have obscured the encouraging and, one hopes, significant improvements he made in his second year in the league.

While essentially repeating his rookie production in terms of FT%, DR%, and S%, Horford improved his production in the following areas...

Scoring: 12.4 Pts/36 minutes, up from 11.6 Pts/36 minutes

FG%: 52.5%, up from 49.9%

FT Rate: 25.1, up from 23.2

A%: 11.9%, up from 7.9%

TO%: 13.1%, down from 15.3%

BS%: 3.3%, up from 2.2%

stats courtesy

I think the increase in scoring is most impressive as his usage rate didn't increase much: up from 16% to 16.4% and using 16.4% of the team's possessions puts Horford in line with Zaza Pachulia and Acie Law IV (both had 2008-09 usage rates of 16.3%). Yes, Al Horford is, relatively speaking, an equal part of the team's offense as his backup and the team's third string point guard. Unless he shared the court with Maurice Evans or, on very rare instances (138 minutes over the course of the season), Solomon Jones, Al Horford was clearly the Hawks' fifth offensive option.

Usage Rate, 2008-09 Atlanta Hawks


Al Horford didn't improve his numbers because his team made better or more frequent use* of him. Al Horford improved because he improved his skills and decision-making. I'm worried about the long-term production of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and (if they return) Mike Bibby and Flip Murray, but I'm confident that Al Horford gives the Hawks a fairly untapped offensive resource which could build upon his solid rebounding and defensive play to create an excellent NBA player. He's the closest thing to an untouchable player on the roster and the most likely member of the current roster to be on a Hawks team that reaches the Eastern Conference finals should that accomplishment ever come to pass.

*Were I sufficiently resourced and productive, I'd love to attempt to figure out how many of those possessions Horford did get to use came as a result of grabbing an offensive rebound or other manner of loose ball rather than as a result of a set play. There was more than one night that the Hawks' offense looked best for five-second stretches where Horford got the ball unexpectedly and hap, in that unscripted moment, the opportunity to use his skills either to get to the basket or find a wide open teammate. I suspect it's not a significant amount over the course of 82 games, not least of which because he got to significantly fewer offensive rebounds in his sophomore season (2008-09 OR%: 7.6%, 2007-08 OR%: 11.4%) but anecdotally it stokes one's desire to see Horford take on a greater offensive role both as a scorer and a passer.


Unknown said...

Once he gets to play at his natural position (Power Forward), he will blossom and become an All-Star.


jrauch said...

Just calling some plays for the guy would be an improvement over the current situation.

Unknown said...

i wonder if I'm the only person in the Hawks fan-dom who thinks Al Horford receives more accolades for doing less than his talent suggests. I think Al is a great power forward prospect.

But we can't say much about him b/c he's playing out of position (regardless of what the organization says) and he doesn't get the rock consistently. Now, the question is - is he not getting it b/c he's not good enough to give him those opportunities OR is he being suppressed by bad coaching and team decision making?

I'd go with the latter, but I'm not convinced that the former isn't the answer either. There still isn't much in his offensive game that screams 20-10 guy. I see 14-10 all day and unfortunately, 14-10 is not untouchable or irreplaceable. Give Zaza those touches and he can do the same.

Don't take this as bashing Al - I admit that I think he has great potential, but I just think that people have overrated his production to date.

Bret LaGree said...

Are you suggesting that he's not maximizing his talent or that he's not as talented as I assume him to be?

20 and 10 may be a stretch but a high-efficiency 18 and 10 plus 3 or 4 assists seems a reasonable expectation for his peak.

I don't really get the concern about what position Horford plays. He can play the 4 and the 5. That's a good thing. That Woodson struggled to put him in advantageous matchups alongside either Josh Smith (with Horford at the 5) or Zaza Pachulia (with Horford at the 4) or to use Horford's quickness as an offensive advantage to counter bigger centers using their size against Horford on the other end isn't really indicative of anything inherent about Horford.

Personal preference makes me prefer to have the quicker, more skilled group of five on the floor and I tend to be more hardline than most about Josh Smith's complete inability to play the 3 on either end of the floor so that's where I'm coming from.

Charles Foreman said...

Horford will be a stud at the four or the three.

jrauch said...

I think he's fine at the 5. There's only a handful of traditional centers in the East anyways.

He'd make more sense there if they decided to run a bit more. He actually holds his own pretty well against centers in the league. If only we could get Josh and Marvin hitting the glass as hard as Al does, I think we'd see how productive he could be.

Given how they use Al currently, I don't see how moving him to the 4 would be some sort of revelation. I think he just needs more involvement in the offense beyond picking up Joe's garbage.

Jonathan said...

As good as he is at center moving him to forward with a good defensive presence at center would lock the front court down.

It is to bad Jermaine Oneal decided to wake up and take his thunder. I know Al will be back with a vengeance next year.

Bronnt said...

I was waiting for you to get to Al Horford or Marvin so that I can pose this question/comment.

The most efficient scorers on the Hawks are invariably those who are used the least. Mike Bibby posted the second highest eFG% on the team and was used 4th most. Al Horford was the 6th most used and posted the highest eFG%. Marvin Williams was used only slightly more than Horford and had the highest TS%.

So it makes me wonder to what extent those numbers are related. Is the low usage rate symptomatic of good shot selection rather than bad strategy? Josh Smith, king of ill-advised shots, was the team's second option with the starters on the floor. Only Zaza Pachulia posted a lower eFG% than Joe Johnson among the typical 8 man rotation. I think it's obvious that the willingness to take questionable shots explains the usage rates.

But then again, the lack of Josh Smith/Al Horford post isolations or pick and rolls involving Marvin is also very drastic. So I don't know exactly how strong the relationship is between USG% and bad shots.

Bret LaGree said...


There's no doubt that usage and efficiency are something like the yin and the yang of evaluating a basketball player. Since none of the Hawks players in question turn the ball over an extreme amount (the other way to inflate your usage rate) we are looking primarily at shot creation and shot quality.

Joe Johnson is the best player on the team at creating his own shot and shots for others so his usage should always be highest just not to the degree it is. Especially relative to Williams and Horford though their shots are probably more limited by running the offense through Flip Murray for two stretches a game rather than getting the young guys beneficial matchups against other teams' second units when Johnson's resting. But, as Drew's ably demonstrating not only (but especially) in the titles of his season review posts, tactical flexibility is not one of Woodson's strengths.

I'd argue (and suspect that you'd agree, if not please say so) that Williams and Horford's usage rates are so low that they could maintain their efficiency while taking some more shots and if that's an accurate supposition it could help Johnson raise his efficiency as his usage rate declines.

Look at Hollinger's list of league leaders in usage rate and you'll see that Joe uses possessions at roughly the rate of a great point guard (Deron Williams) or good players on terrible teams (Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, Kevin Martin, Caron Butler) without being as efficient as any of them. That just can't continue.

As for Josh Smith, I think it's less a concern about how many possessions he uses and more about how he uses them. If he could turn his five jump shot attempts a game into two shots in the paint, four free throw attempts, and a turnover I think he could increase his efficiency without reducing his usage rate.