Al Horford is often talked about as undersized at center. He’s 6-10, but built like a power-forward, with long arms, great athleticism, and not so wide of a base like so many 5’s. The Hawks have made a ton of noise about adding a legit center this offseason, or at least aiming for some depth in order to elevate Zaza Pachulia (ZAZA!) to starter. Their efforts towards Shaquille O’Neal were indicative of that approach.
And yet, if the Hawks do decide to make a move to a bigger lineup, they face a rather profound logjam in the front court. Horford was an All-Star last year. But because of his size, the Hawks are thinking of shifting him to power forward. Which is fine, except for their second biggest star behind Joe Johnson is power forward Josh Smith, who is not great at small forward.
It’s like Tetris, only with guys that can’t guard Dwight Howard. (Who can?)
The Atlanta Journal Constitution approaches the question this morning of how all this would work out and what exactly Horford thinks about it. The results are mixed, and Horford, as usual, plays it smart in the media, rarely commenting on the positional quandary.
Thing is, the numbers bear out that this approach could work out great. Horford has better numbers at power forward in net +/- at power forward and Smith has better numbers at small forward. But those were in limited minutes. In 2008-2009, the results were the exact opposite. Such is what happens in a small sample size. Smith’s evolution as a player has taken him more and more to a power forward. In fact, his significant improvement last season was in large part attributed to him stopping with the nonsense perimeter shooting and doing what he should, attack the basket as mercilessly and unrelentingly as possible.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, having two terrific players (both of whom should have been All-Stars-as opposed to just Horford, had the world not spontaneously lost its mind with David Lee) at the same position. But it feels more like the Hawks are headed away from the trend in the NBA towards versatility.
After all, the Thunder have acquired (or kept) several players at overlapping positions with slight variations in skill (Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich) in the approach of being able to counter different opponents with different defenders.
However, the Hawks seem centered on specifically trying to counter Dwight Howard (who destroyed them in the playoffs). This could wind up being a mistake if they interrupt both their chemistry and rotation flow in an attempt to counter a specific player who they may not even see in the playoffs. But putting Horford at the more natural position of power forward could work out really well if the Hawks are able to utilize this mega-big lineup.
Until then, they’ll be trying to solve a Rubix cube of redundant positionality.
And they still can’t guard Dwight Howard.