February 09, 2011
It's the biggest go-to salve the NBA has. The team needs a big man, a legitimate center who can defend, rebound and hold his own offensively. With center-size, preferably.
Forgetting, of course, that there aren't many of those guys in the NBA. Yao Ming(notes) and Greg Oden(notes) are hurt. Pau Gasol(notes) gets killed for his center-sized defense all the time. Dwight Howard(notes), though this isn't correct, is consistently criticized for his offense. Andrew Bogut(notes) may be this league's best defender at his position -- I mean that -- but he's been terrible offensively this season. Andrew Bynum(notes) can't even stay on the court. Joakim Noah(notes) couldn't post up Joaquin Andujar. Nobody counts Amar'e Stoudmire as a center. And those are the guys we're actually counting here.
But that doesn't stop fans, media and, in this case, family members alike for begging their favorite team to go out and grab that mythical 7-footer who can defend and score.
What sets this case apart is that the fan in question here is actually the father of the starting center of the Atlanta Hawks. And he, as a former NBA center, would love to see the Hawks grab a starting-quality center in order to move his son down to the power forward slot.
Tito Horford, on Tuesday, talked to the Atlanta Journal-Consitution's Jeff Schwartz:
"I've been begging [general manager] Rick Sund and the Hawks for the last three years -- please get a center so my son can play his normal position," the elder Horford said Tuesday from his home in the Dominican Republic. "He can't push guys out of the box like I could. If he moved to forward, he would have a longer career."
Tito's frustrations have been long echoed by Hawks fans and observers of the team. His son Al has put together perhaps the most underrated season of any player in the NBA this season, but as a 6-10 center, you can't help but get the feeling he'd do much, much better with a bigger center looking over his shoulder, matching giants like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut and ... well, that's about it out East.
The issue here is availability. There aren't any centers that can be had in a trade that wouldn't cripple the Hawks. It's not even worth discussing because those guys just aren't out there to trade for. And though a move to power forward would no doubt extend Horford's career, it should be pointed out that he's sort of kicking a little butt at the center position this year.
Al is averaging a 24 Player Efficiency Rating in the pivot while playing nearly half of Atlanta's minutes at center, and that's just a step below MVP numbers when it comes to PER. He's not far off at a 22 PER as a big forward, though we should point out that he gives up just a 12 PER (a sterling mark, because typical power forward stats tend to translate better to PER than any other position) while guarding fours. He gives up a 17 PER at center, so it is clear that -- though he plays better offensively at the five -- his worth to the Hawks overall is more pronounced at big forward.
Even without the help of 82games.com, Atlanta knows this. But what can the Hawks do about it? Chase down Nene? Hope that Jim Buss finally tires of Andrew Bynum, while gutting their roster to grab him? Catch Avery Johnson on a bad day -- regarding Brook Lopez(notes) -- when Billy King's cell-phone battery has run out? There's just not a lot out there. There's also a reason the "try-to-package-a-deal-for-a-serviceable-center" suggestion has been floating around since this league started up.
It's understandable, Tito, as you watch your son bang with the best of them. But understand that Al Horford(notes) is amongst the best of them. This guy doles out more punishment than he takes in, and while that's cold comfort as you watch him take the slings and arrows at a position he's not best suited for, the warming element has to be Al Horford's fantastic 2010-11 run as all-world center.
Schwartz got to the point of it later in his column:
How good would he be as a power forward?
"He'd be a beast," [Atlanta] coach Larry Drew said.
He would be. But he also is a beast now. Recognize and appreciate it, and then do what you can should something pop up.