Where does Al Horford fit in the positional revolution?

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When we debate and deliberate over the nature of conventional positions and their obvious anomalies (LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, etc.), Al Horford is rarely a name that drives the conversation. Yet, as Bret LaGree pointed out in a video at Hoopinion, Horford may somehow be the Hawks’ best interior and perimeter defender, their strongest post scorer and one of their finest passers. Horford has such a weird combination of offensive and defensive skills that he should have been a part of the positional discussions all along, and yet he’s widely regarded as a proper power forward playing out of position at center.

That said, how weird is it that a team would rely on their power forward to defend Steve Nash for significant portions of a game? And how often do we see that very same player defend Dwight Howard the very next day? Horford is an incredibly versatile defensive prospect with a wide variety of offensive skills, and yet on this particular team, his shot selection is bizarrely similar to that of a typical center.

Yet Horford isn’t a center, at least not in the archetypal sense. For every hook and counter he hits a face up jumper and defends an opposing perimeter player. He’s not a power forward either, for the very same reason. Does that make Horford deserving of some maligned “tweener” label? Or can we just acknowledge that players like Horford don’t have to fit neatly into those five boxes for the sake of convenience?

From an offensive standpoint, Horford is both center and power forward. Defensively, he’s more important than either position. Al rarely gets his due because of Josh Smith’s out-of-control defensive reputation and the perception that Joe Johnson has retained his defensive adequacy from the wonder years, but there should be no question that the Hawks’ defensive competence hinges on Horford. Without him, the combination of Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford on the perimeter would welcome opponents into the paint and ask them to stay awhile. Smith is a tremendous help-side shot-blocker, but it’s Horford that’s properly hedging, switching when necessary, and rotating to help every one of his teammates.

Maybe that’s what a center — or a power forward, or a “big” — is supposed to do, but the fact that Horford is versatile enough to defend just about anyone when asked should indicate that strange things are afoot. He’s not a power forward playing out of position, even though Horford told me that he considers himself a natural 4. He’s a “center,” nighttiming as a power forward, defending point guards, helping wings, passing, scoring, rebounding, posting up, facing up, running the high post, living on the low block, and living completely outside the positional designation he’s been so arbitrarily assigned.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.