The Atlanta Hawks stumbled through the 2013-14 season without their star player Al Horford, who was lost to a pectoral injury. In his absence the Hawks were not able to garnish a .500 record, yet they still were able to make the playoffs and push the No. 1 seed Indiana Pacers to a Game 7. Now Horford is back.
His return will equate to more wins for Atlanta. The Hawks have maintained a winning percentage over .500 since Horford was drafted third overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Hotlanta has also made the playoffs every year since Horford’s arrival. The 2013 playoffs were the last time he was able to compete in the postseason, for he was still recovering during the series this year with the Pacers. Horford tallied the most points and the most rebounds for the Hawks in three of those six playoff games.
Horford also brings versatility as unlike many big men, he can actually move with the ball effectively. He is an adequate passer who can spit the ball out to the corners with deadly accuracy. He’s also incredibly smooth from 15 feet out which allows more space to be created on the floor so lane splitters like Jeff Teague can dart through the gaps to the hoop.
Consistency is another attribute for Horford. Since starting in Atlanta, the Dominican center has always averaged over 10 points per game. In fact he’s improved his point total almost every single season. This past year Horford was averaging 18 points per game before losing his season to the injury. At 28 years old, he is directly in the prime of his career. LeBron James won his first title at 27. There is still plenty of time for Horford to make a more permanent mark on the NBA.
Atlanta was middle of the pack when it came to defensive statistics this past season, and one of the main reasons can be pinpointed to the absence of Horford down low. Atlanta had one of the lowest rebounding percentages in the league, coming in at under 48 percent. Horford’s presence around the hoop will add much more power and zeal compared to the likes of Pero Antic. He has the ability to swiftly slide in and block the lanes of point-guards while also being able to quickly return to his man and contest shots. His return will easily catapult the Hawks into one of the top 10 defenses in the league.
There have been many shakeups in the Eastern Conference this offseason, and the conference as a whole is much stronger than last year. The Hawks were an eighth-place team without Horford or much assistance from the bench and role players. His return, along with the additions of the defensively minded Thabo Sefolosha and the lightning quick Kent Bazemore, will put this team among the top contenders.
The entire squad is more acclimated as teammates and have become more comfortable in the Mike Budenholzer, San Antonio Spurs-like style of play. The aspirations of the Hawks are expanding daily as the confidence in this squad continues to grow. I attended Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs against the Pacers in Atlanta this past season. Phillips Arena was rocking and electrifying. There was not an empty seat to be found, and the cheers were ear-piercingly loud. Atlanta wants a winner, and I believe GM Danny Ferry and coach Budenholzer are on the right track to creating a system that can not only win now but sustain for the future.