Al Horford

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.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

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NEW ORLEANS β€” This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments β€” which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition β€” dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea β€” a drone dunk β€” but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest β€” interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson IIIΒ won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’sΒ best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

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NEW ORLEANS β€” The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation β€” they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help β€” Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.