It has only been a year since Al Horford returned to the Hawks after his shortened 2011-12 campaign, and he now finds himself with a plethora of new teammates and coaches as well as the new task of becoming the face of a franchise.
With the exit of Josh Smith, Al faces the challenge of being a leader for this team in addition to adjusting to the new system being put into place by new head coach Mike Budenholzer. SLAM ONLINE placed Al Horford 33rd on their annual list of the Top 50 players, and Al answered a few questions from SLAM ONLINE’s own DeMarco Williams during Media Day on Monday and his answers presented a few items to look out for during preseason play.
SLAM first asked about Al’s feelings on how the offseason played out:
SLAM: When you went into the summer, with the cap space and all, is this what you planned in terms of the rest of the roster, or this just how it goes when it comes to free agency?
Al Horford: I think more than anything, it’s just the way that it goes. I think everyone at times can kinda make their own mental picture and things like that about how things should go. This isn’t exactly what I wanted, but at the end of the day, I believe in [Hawks GM] Danny [Ferry] and his vision and where he wants to go.
This isn’t the first time Al has stated he envisioned a different result from the summer, but there shouldn’t be any worry that he is unhappy with the outcome. The flexibility that Danny Ferry has maintained for the future along with the quality additions through the draft has given plenty of reasons for Al to be looking forward to the team’s future.
Next, Williams raised an interesting topic on Horford working on his outside game:
SLAM: We saw you working on your three last year. Should we expect you to continue with that?
AH: Yeah, it’s one of those things that I always try to work on—but not only the three. I always try to work on different areas of my game. Once I feel good enough about them, I’ll bring them out. If I’m in a position this year to shoot them, I will. But it’s not like I’m going to be looking for it. I know that I gotta play inside and I know that I gotta play on the elbow. That’s my game. That’s my strength. But it’s good to work on them. You never know when you have to take them.
Three-point territory has never been a focus of Al’s game as he only has 18 three point attempts in his career. However, adding range to his skill set could give himself and the team more opportunities to expose the defense by bringing more players out of the paint. The average NBA center is not often expected to be a proficient scorer from mid-range to three point territory, but it is becoming a trend to see more and more frontcourt players capable of sliding out toward the perimeter and taking the opportunity to knock down the open shot. If Al could capitalize on this aspect of his game, he could put himself into the conversation as one of the best centers in the league if he is not already there.
Lastly, SLAM brings up the continuing debate over the Hawks’ frontcourt size and Al’s position on staying at center over sliding down to power forward:
SLAM: Are you concerned about size on the roster?
AH: I’m going to take care of my body as best that I can. I understand and believe what they’re trying to do. I think I’m going to play a little 4—the same as last year. But I agree with you, I was under the impression that some changes were going to happen. They didn’t happen. I have to deal with it. I have to adjust.
Its a common belief that Al should and wants to be playing power forward as he seems better suited for the position based on his size and playing ability. Al Horford has subtly and directly stated his belief that power forward is where he believes he should be. Looking back to before the draft in June, Al mocked the Hawks to select two centers in the ESPN players only mock draft; While the Hawks did add at least one in Lucas Nogueira, Al will have to wait on seeing a center join the team that could potentially allow him to move down to power forward more as Lucas prepares for another season in Spain.
Overall, it can be debated if 33rd is an appropriate ranking for Big Al — SI.com had him ranked 22nd in their Top 100, and fans still have ESPN’s player rankings to keep up with to see where he ends up.
What to expect from Horford this season is more usage as he becomes the centerpiece of the Hawks’ offense, and a strong season should lead to a higher ranking for him in next year’s SLAM ONLINE Top 50 players.