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.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: