By Featured Columnist Brad Rowland
The best player on the Atlanta Hawks has made the leap. Since the All-Star break (14 games), Al Horford has averaged 20.9 points per game, 11.3 rebounds per game, 1.5 blocks per game, and has shot 58.4% from the field on 16.1 shots per game. In short, he’s been the best center in the NBA since the break, and has anchored the Hawks all season.
Horford continues to climb the charts in the Hawks record book as well, tying Kevin Willis for 8th place on the all-time blocks list (425), and surpassing 1,000 offensive rebounds in his still-short career. It’s easy to forget that Horford is just 26 years old and his prime should be extending for the next several years. While Josh Smith and Jeff Teague make the “flashier” and more spectacular plays, Horford is always in the right position, anchoring the back-line with phenomenal defense (especially in the pick-and-roll) and displaying tremendous consistency and efficiency offensively. That consistency has also on full display in the recent past, as Horford has scored in double-figures in 24 consecutive games, good for the 2nd-longest streak of his career.
It may seem aggressive to say that Horford is playing the best basketball of any center in the league right now, but it bears out statistically, and the eye test doesn’t lie either. Marc Gasol (and his brilliant defense) and Dwight Howard (looking like he’s turning the corner) are right there, but since the break, Horford has been the class of the league. With the Hawks in an important push to the finish line of the season, they need Al to contribute in the same way for the remaining 17 games to avoid the 8th-spot in the East. Based on the evidence, he’s certainly up to the challenge.