Al Horford was selected to two NBA All-Star teams under the designation of center, however, the NBA has removed that label to reflect a league with increasingly few true centers. The new process will make it harder for true centers like Roy Hibbert to return to the All-Star game now having to compete against the premier forwards in the game. However, despite this change, Al definitely deserves to be a part of the Eastern Conference All-Stars once again.
Horford was part of the team in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. His combined per game line those two years was 14.7 points on .554 FG%, 9.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 blocks and .7 steals. Through 12 games, he’s averaging 16 points on .545 FG%, 9.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists. .9 blocks, and .5 steals, all on a per game basis as well. Surely, he is as deserving as he was the last two selections.
In a season without two of their top 5 players from the previous year, Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, their record sits at 8-4 and tied for third in the East. Josh Smith has regressed so far in the early season, and has even been benched on occasion in fourth quarters. Al Horford has been a model of consistency so far and is undoubtedly the team’s MVP so far this season. Horford seems to have taken more of a leadership role on the court, as he has a career high 13.2 field goal attempts per game. He even admitted his injury helped him be more assertive in this Hoopsworld piece:
“I’m definitely a lot hungrier now to be better and to help our team be the best team that we can be. I feel very confident with the team we have. I just want us to keep building each day because I think we haven’t reached the ceiling for our team yet and that’s something to look forward to. […] I had a chance to grow last year by sitting out and watching the game. It gave me a different perspective on how the offense flows by watching Josh [Smith] and Zaza [Pachulia]. I picked up things, which helped my game. So [being aggressive] was one of the things I tried to focus on this offseason.”
The bar to be a part of the All-Star team is obviously not static; it is based on the performance of the other possible All-Stars. Assuming 5 spots for guards, there are 7 spots for frontcourt players. Last year’s starters at center were Dwight Howard in the East and Andrew Bynum for the West. Dwight has left for the West Coast and his replacement in the East, Bynum, most likely will not even play this season. That same deal also traded Iguodala, a participant in last year’s game, to Denver in the Western Conference. Roy Hibbert can also be ruled out as he and his Pacers are struggling mightily without Danny Granger.
What other candidates are left? Some like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh are locks at this point. Others such as Kevin Garnett are very likely to be selected, despite only averaging 29 minutes per game this season.
Luol Deng made the team last year, and has picked up production without Derrick Rose, as has Joakim Noah to some degree, but their higher than normal volume, and consequently lower efficiency numbers is reflected in the gaps in effective field goal percentage. Simply stated, in the absence of Rose, they have had to produce more, in effect reducing the efficiency at with they produce.
Brook Lopez, Anderson Varejao, David West, Tyson Chandler might be a few names that pop up in the discussion. Deng, Noah, West and Varejao are on teams that currently would not even make the playoffs, though Varejao is on an incredibly impressive rebounding tear. Primarily defense-first players like Chandler tend to get passed over. By no fault of their own, All-Stars tend to represent playoff-bound teams, like the Hawks appear to be. It could be argued that none are as important to their respective teams as Horford is.
He has had a career year in a difficult situation after an offseason of much whirlwind. Come February, Horford should and will be taking the court in Houston alongside Lebron James and the Eastern Conference All-Stars.