Josh Smith (deservedly) gets talked about in terms of what he might become and what the hypothetical consolidation and maturation of his talents might mean for the Atlanta Hawks. Even though Al Horford's skills are more conventional he should probably be discussed in similar terms. Horford recognizes his strengths and weaknesses more readily than does Smith so his improvement has and could come from refining his existing skills rather than a hope for enlightenment.
Horford improved his offensive production and his efficiency in both his second and third seasons:
Horford continued to play a surprisingly small role in the Atlanta offense given his abilities, though his usage rate also reflects the significant improvement he's made in his turnover rate.
Despite still being mechanical* with his back to the basket, Horford is tremendously efficient when shooting from inside of 10 feet. Almost 65% of Horford's field goal attempts came within 10 feet of the basket and he made those shots at a far higher than league average rate.
*Whether or not Horford improves his post game sufficiently to consistently draw a double-team and thus fully take advantage of his passing ability will likely determine whether he remains an arguable All-Star or becomes an arguable All-NBA player.
|2009-10||at rim FG%||inside 10' FG%||combined FG%|
Horford complemented his work in and around the paint with a devastatingly accurate face-up jumper. 21.5% of Horford's field goal attempts came between 16 and 23 feet. It's the worst percentage shot in the game in general, but not so much so if one, as Horford did last season, makes the shot 48% of the time rather than the league average of 39.8% and uses the shot judiciously. Horford is unlikely to make 48% of that type of shot again next year, but his career field goal percentage from 16 to 23 feet is now 41.5% so he should be expected to remain better than league average from that range. As an counterexample of indiscriminate and ineffective use of the jumper, Josh Smith took 64 more long jump shots (including 3PTFGA: 1 for Horford, 7 for Smith) than Horford and made 20 fewer.
|Name||FGA (16' +)||%FGA (16' +)||eFG% (16' +)|
Horford's defensive role was essentially the opposite of his offensive role. Mike Woodson's switching defense called on Horford to do everything: guard the opposing center in the post, guard the opposing point guard away from the basket on the screen-and-roll, help on dribble penetration from the wings, and rebound the misses. If defensive usage rate were a real thing rather than a term of art, then Horford presumably would have been among the league leaders as his all-court defensive effort rarely failed to impress.
How effective Horford was as a defender is a fair question, though. The Hawks allowed fewer points per 100 possessions with Horford on the court than with him off the court but that has a fair amount to do with the relative quality of Horford to both his backups and his teammates. Similarly, how effective is it that Horford moves his feet well enough to often stay in front of smaller, faster players in an absolute sense and how much is it impressive simply because his teammates could so rarely accomplish the same feat? Employing guards who can defend on the perimeter is surely the sounder strategy than testing the limits of Horford' mobility. I'm confident that Horford is an above average defender but I think it's possible that his overall defensive contributions are somewhat similar to Joe Johnson's scoring: more impressive for the circumstances through which they occur than in absolute value. Given a more reasonable defensive brief, it's not inconceivable that Horford (already the superior defensive reboudner) could challenge Josh Smith as the team's best defender.
If Horford is the dark-horse candidate, in relation to Josh Smith, to blossom into a franchise player, then he's also the dark-horse candidate, in relation to Marvin Williams (and possibly Jeff Teague), to benefit the most from a new head coach. Horford has produced admirably through three seasons despite being utilized more often to cover for his teammates' limitations than to take advantage of his own strengths. Should the new head coach allow Horford to use his superior quickness to neutralize the size and strength advantages bigger centers have against him and/or make more use of Horford at power forward alongside Zaza Pachulia when that tandem presents potentially favorable matchups for the team, Horford might conceivably increase his usage rate and his efficiency yet again.