Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010-11 Season Preview: Al Horford

As misguided as the retention of Jason Collins and the addition of Etan Thomas are in improving the team, one part of the underlying motivation encourages thoroughly: a desire to maximize Al Horford's production.

Practically and tactically speaking, one way of doing that could be to play Horford at power forward when that presents a more advantageous matchup for him. Another could be to get Horford more touches on the move so as to use his superior quickness against bigger, slower centers just as their teams, in turn, use their superior strength against him in the post. Another could be to prevent Horford from having to keep opposing point guards in front of him on the perimeter. The more defense Horford plays in and around the painted area could also lead to an increase in the number of defensive rebounds he's able to grab.

It's possible, if not probable, that each of these changes occurs in the 2010-11 season. Which is great. Everybody likes Al Horford and many share the faith that he could do much more for the team were he made more central to the proceedings.

Larry Drew's task is to make use of Horford's potential without diminishing the potential production of his teammates. It won't be straightforward. If Horford plays more at power forward, does that mean extended minutes for Jason Collins or Etan Thomas at center? Does it mean extended minutes for Josh Smith at small forward? At whose expense does Horford get increased touches in the half-court and how does that impact both efficiency and morale? If not Horford, who keeps opposing point guards in front of him on the perimeter? If the answer to that question is "no one," can Horford maintain his low foul rate while protecting the paint? Even if Horford increases his defensive rebounding volume and/or rate, will a different, possibly reduced, role for him in the team's defensive system adversely affect other areas of defense, specifically opponents' field goal percentage? Even if Horford spurs an improvement for the Hawks on the defensive glass, will they really run more often and, thus, maximize the value of those extra defensive rebounds?

I don't know and not knowing is one of the joys of caring about basketball. There's little disagreement on the composition of Al Horford's skills. He's about to play a third straight season with essentially the same teammates. Larry Drew has been perfectly clear about his tactical intentions. And, yet, predicting how the 2010-11 Atlanta Hawks will play, how the familiar players will interact in new systems, how they will decline with age or improve as their talents mature seems, one week before the season tips-off, is a subject ripe for reasonable disagreement.

But, let it be said: Al Horford is capable of more, both in terms of individual production and in terms of helping a team win. Whether we witness either strand of more this season, with this team...that's why we watch. And write. And argue. And why I anxiously anticipate, with equal passion, the tangible evidence that explains (to some degree) success or failure and the surprise of the sublime.

No comments: