Al's Evolution

Thursday, March 3, 2011
By Jon Newberry

In case you missed it, here are Al’s highlights from last night’s win over the Bulls: CLICK HERE.

What you might not see in the video is Al being animated and vocal both on the court and in the huddle.

Al Horford was an All-Star last year, which makes it hard to be considered for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, but he has taken a fairly large step forward this season. Sometimes a player’s evolution shows up in the box score, and sometimes it shows up in the locker room or huddle. In Horford’s case, it is apparent in every aspect.

First, let’s look at the numbers:

His shooting percentage and points per game have gotten better every season, his assists per game have increased substantially, and he is shooting over 80% from the charity stripe.  Al currently ranks in the top-10 in the NBA in several categories including field goal percentage (4th), rebounds per game (6th), double-doubles (7th), and efficiency ranking per 48 minutes (5th).

Moreover, Horford’s versatility has drastically improved this season. His mid-range jump shot is one of the best in the league. He consistently grabs defensive rebounds and quickly turns to lead the fast break. Recently he has even been nailing his jumper off of the dribble, and last night he drilled a 3-pointer from the corner within the flow of the offense.

Still, there are many (myself included) that believe that Horford’s biggest value will ultimately be his leadership. Al is a winner. If you don’t believe it he can show you his two NCAA Championship rings. As a rookie he was the catalyst that helped the Hawks to the playoffs and he was the one that got in Paul Pierce’s face to let him know that the Hawks would not go down without a fight.

Al knows that respect must be earned, so his assumption of a leadership role with the Hawks has been gradual. The latest roster move left some leadership space up for grabs, and if last night was any indication, Horford is more than willing to snatch it.

Opposing teams now have to make Horford a focus of their game-plan whenever they face the Hawks. Regardless, there will probably be more postgame quotes similar to last night when evaluating his play:

Hawks Coach Larry Drew:
“He was an absolute beast tonight. He just did it on both ends. I was a little concerned in the fourth quarter. I thought he might have gotten a little winded. I was going to actually get him out of the game and give him a quick blow, but I couldn’t take him out. He was playing too well, and we were right there. He was our anchor tonight. During the timeouts, he was in the huddles cheering the guys, and just telling the guys to keep plugging. He was phenomenal tonight.”

Bulls’ center and former Florida teammate Joakim Noah:
“Horford played great tonight. He was hitting deep shots, hustling, rebounding. He did everything”