by DeMarco Williams / @demarcowill

Al Horford is a pretty laid-back dude, so he won’t be storming the SLAM Dome any time soon, demanding folks’ jobs as a result of his questionable spot on this list. Nonetheless, if the modest mercenary were just a little perturbed by his position in private, you’d have to understand where he was coming from.

With what’s-his-name out of Orlando, the Atlanta Hawks’ Horford is arguably the best center in the Eastern Conference. Best center in the Eastern Conference deserves at least Top 30 considerations, right? But before you interrupt and blurt out a name like “Roy Hibbert” or “Kevin Garnett,” let me stop you. Neither can go toe-to-toe with a healthy Big Al. In fact, the last three times Horford faced Hibbert, Al averaged 13.3 ppg and 10 boards while Roy managed 9.3 ppg and 8.6 rebounds.

Those numbers mostly come from the ‘10-11 season. Because of a January shoulder injury, Al only managed 10 regular-season games last year. (Now that we think about it, questions about the recovery may have left SLAMonline folks hesitant to vote for Horford.) Whatever the case, he stormed back in time for the Playoffs, averaging 15.3 points and 8 rebounds vs Boston. Still it wasn’t enough to get the Hawks to the next level.

Rather than sulk about the L though, the two-time All-Star kept working, trying to get his strength and speed back up to “Best Center in the East” levels. A summer as the centerpiece of the Dominican Republic national team helped. But it won’t be until the new NBA campaign tips off this fall that people realize just how good he is. Quick, smart and able play way bigger than his power forward frame (6-10, 250), the Hawks center always looks like he’s got a plan out there. It’s gonna be a blast watching him and Josh Smith form one of the League’s fiercest frontcourts.

With Joe Johnson in Brooklyn, points are going to have to come from somewhere in Philips Arena. Horford managed 15.3 ppg in ’10-11, so he can definitely pick up some of the offensive slack. And on defense, if Al can just get back to his regular clips of 9.4 rebounds and 1 block, the new-look Hawks will surprise some people in June. Of course, none would be more shocked than the SLAMonline staffers who doubted Al Horford’s resurgence back in October.


Where should Al Horford rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.