The Atlanta Hawks decided to keep pending free agent Josh Smith at the NBA trade deadline this season, going against what most assumed was a no-brainer of a decision. Smith can – and most likely will – leave the Hawks when the season is over, but the Hawks thought it was better to keep him around a few more months and get risk getting nothing when he bolts instead of derailing their playoff chances. Your guesses for the reasons why are as good as mine.
One player who will benefit greatly from Smith’s exit will be forward/center Al Horford. Horford has been forced to play out of position most times as a center with Josh Smith on the roster, which limits Horford’s production to an extent. Granted, Horford has been a two-time All-Star as a center, but at 6’10”, 245 lbs his size and skill set are a more natural fit for the power forward position.
Horford is also having the best season of his career after taking on a larger role this year with Joe Johnson traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Horford is averaging career highs in points (17.3) rebounds (10.0) and shooting a career-best .557 from the field. Horford has stepped up his production even more lately to the tune of 21.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over the Hawks last 18 games.
Once Smith is gone via free agency the Hawks should build around Horford and point guard Jeff Teague. Trading Smith for assets may have been wise decision for the Hawks but Atlanta can feel confident knowing that Horford can handle a larger, more efficient role on offense.