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Friday, September 30th, 2011 at 4:01 pm  |  28 responses

Top 50: Al Horford, no. 32

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

For Alfred Joel Horford Reynoso, basketball is a family affair. Father Tito became the League’s first Dominican-born player when he was drafted by the Bucks in 1988, and spent parts of three seasons in Milwaukee and Washington as a 7-1 center. Uncle Kelly balled at Florida Atlantic in the early ‘90s. And brother Jon helped Michigan to an NCAA Tournament bid last season as a reserve forward.

So it should come as no surprise that Al Horford is the glue that keeps the often-dysfunctional Hawks family together—and consistently in the top third of the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta made Horford the No. 3 selection in ’08 after Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, and since being installed as a front-line starter from the jump, the former Gator has put up 10+ ppg and 9+ rpg in all four of his professional seasons. He’s steadily improved his scoring numbers each year, increasing his nightly production from 10.1 ppg as a rookie to a career-best 15.3 ppg on 56 percent field goal shooting in ’10-11, to go along with a top-10 finish in total rebounds and an 80 percent free-throw clip.

Not impressed by his stat line?

Consider, Horford trolls the paint for a team that works outside in, rarely runs plays for him and constantly relies on him to bail out below-average perimeter defenders. Plus, he’s as reliable as they come, playing 35 minutes a night at a premium position (arguably not his natural one) and appearing in no less than 77 games in three of his four seasons to date.

Horford’s even demeanor doesn’t demand attention like an Amar’e or a Garnett. His jersey isn’t a popular sell. He doesn’t have “swag,” or whatever the kids call it these days. Heck, he has fewer Twitter followers than Marc Gasol.

Simply put, Al’s game isn’t sexy.

Which is good, because if there’s been a criticism of his team over the past half-decade, it’s an unwillingness to get dirty. But the 25-year-old has quietly made back-to-back All-Star games as the lone physical presence on the Hawks, his dirty work allowing the rest of Atlanta’s roster to do what they do (shelve the merits their “doings” for another debate). He’s become a double-double machine without demanding the ball on offense and with little help on the boards, as ATL finished in the bottom half of the NBA in rebounding last season.

Not only that, Horford found time between anchoring Atlanta’s defense and attacking the offensive boards to hand out 3.5 assists per game last season. Among Hawks returning in ‘12, that was second—second!—on the team. And that’s no fluke. Flip around League Pass long enough on a weeknight and you’ll see Horford running the break once or twice a game, and looking comfortable doing so.

Aside from his incredible skill in an Incredible Hulk’s body, what’s reassuring about Horford is that he dominates inferior competition. He can recognize a mismatch and take advantage, even in limited touches. In ’10-11, he averaged 22 and 14 against the Warriors, 23/10 vs the Suns, 21/11 vs the T-Wolves, 19/11 vs the Wizards and 18/10 vs the Cavs. He doesn’t just beat low-grade centers, he destroys them.

Granted, crushing the League’s garbage is nothing to boast about, but in the words of Juelz Santana, “No Days Off.” When the rest of the NBA is taking a night to rest, Al Horford is putting in work, making his teammates look good first and getting his where he can.

And when the big challenges come, he more than holds his own. Over the last two games of Atlanta’s first-round Playoff upset of Dwight Howard and the Magic in ‘11, Horford averaged 9.5, 13 and 6—typical Horford games.

The kind of games you don’t notice until you study the box score the next day. The kind you might miss while watching Josh Smith’s SportsCenter highlight or counting up Joe Johnson’s shot totals. The kind that might make Tito, Jon and Uncle Kelly smile, and leave the rest of us wondering who checks who at the Horford family reunion.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    I still can’t believe that Bogut was the first center off the board while a guy who’s not even a true center is chosen as the 2nd best C in the L.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    I don’t buy that Horford is the second best center in the L.
    Dude’s not even a center.

  • sad jose

    Damn! this means all of Golden State’s starters are gonna be in the top 30? wow SLAM! holey moley.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    Horford might be a better player then Bogut. Just not out of position, but I can dig this spot. And good write up Abe

  • ab40

    so josh smith isn’t on here? since Al is the better basketball player. @JTaylor that’s where the L is right now. All the tall kids in the states wanna dunk all the time and all the tall kids in europe want to be like Dirk. Just watched some Olajuwan highlights killing every other great center and I seriously wonder if we’ll ever get a leauge that has that many great bigs at once.

  • http://slamonline.com nbk

    “All of Golden State’s Starters” – Just 2, maybe 3 depending if David Lee made it (which I doubt now that Horford is off the board).

  • http://counterkicks.com Quinned

    yeah Bogut still the best center on this list

  • Shem

    No way David Lee is on the list. Don’t see him better then Horford or Jefferson. Bogut would have been higher on the list then Horford had he been healthy.

  • Joe Joe

    Bogut is not the same player he was before the nasty fall he took. He is no longer better then Horford or the 2nd best center in the league

  • http://www.slamonline.com Wayno

    I love Horford’s game. He’s not a guy looking for stats, he just does what needs to be done. I can dig the argument that he’s the # 2 center in the league…it’s a very close call between him and Bogut. I like a healthy Bogut over Horford, but barely.

  • Shem

    I guarantee the Hawks would trade Horford for Bogut.

  • Irfan

    He’s not a true center; I don’t think he’s really better than Noah, Gasol, Ibaka or Chandler. That being said I think he deserves this spot for being very consistant and very useful to his team – a team that, it’s been well said in the paper, doesn’t run play for him. Anyway, we saw that coming, as well as we saw coming his all-star selection.
    It shows the lack of true centers in the League at the moment (though I like many of them they are all very flawed in one aspect of the game, mainly offensively). Dwight Howard is a top 7 player, the second center is 32. Enough said.

  • ctkennedy

    am the only person that think Horford wouldnt be better at power forward…his quickness advantage would go away …he has no back to the basket game …he cant guard face up 4s full time

  • guru

    Horford: pp 15.3 rp 9.3 bp 1.0
    Bogut pp 12.8 (will improve with arm) rp 11.1 bp 2.6 (best in league)

    Horford: good
    Bogut: better

  • http://www.jcolemusic.com Showtime

    I seen this coming a week ago…

  • DukeFromDeep

    Bogut>Horford, healthy or no.

  • CeeLowe

    SLAM…. So street, we think defense is a terrible thing that should be beaten out of good centers.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca niQ

    I see a lot of people saying “healthy Bogut” and all but really, even Bogut himself said he’ll probably never be able to play like he did before…which sucks.

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca niQ

    *in case someone reads my post wrong, I meant to say that it sucks Bogut will never be 100%.

  • Drig

    Marc Gasol, Bynum, Nene and a moderately healthy Bogut > Horford…….I’d take any of the 3 guys first….. Why has D gone missing somewhere? Is this Top 50 offense oriented players or what???

    Steve Nash might be the only guy who approves of this list…..

  • http://philosopher.view@blogspot.com The Philosopher

    Otis Thorpe Jr.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlD1Uhs0mTQ what

    Either y’all are saying Al Horford is the worst of the Hawks’ top three players, or y’all are saying Josh Smith and Joe Johnson ain’t in the top 50. I don’t agree with either one.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    If Al had even one low post move he would easily, without question, be the league’s second best center. As it stands you could make a pretty strong case for Noah, Bynum, Bogut, or M. Gasol.

  • RE: ctkennedy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npZhRPVMetY

    @what he has post moves. He just doesn’t have the length to capitalize on them. Thats why he hangs around the perimeter throwing the ball into Smith and Johnson posting up or slashing.

    He doesn’t dominate “low-grade” centers. He uses his speed and 15 foot jumper against slow centers. Against skinny ones he tries to back then down.

    On the perimeter he always twists his ankle or gets injured trying to do simple PF face up moves.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=3n3j7tn
    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=3wllsco

    If I were the Hawks I’d try to pawn him off for floor spacing. Horford and Smith are not going to work. And one more playoff series of tweener play from Horford will convince the league and then youll have to sell low.

  • Jenn

    eric gordon is much better than being ranked 36…

  • jufu

    you guys understand that y’all are pretty much verifying what schwadron’s saying? that al horford is forever invisible, but consistently good? y’all are idiots

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/officerbarbrady what

    @RE: the only post moves he has are that turnaround (which as you point out he doesn’t have the length to consistently make) and this awkward jump hook he puts up from time to time. He doesn’t have a single move that takes him toward the basket and puts him in a position to get fouled. That’s what I meant. He has more than enough quickness and ball handling ability to get past most people guarding him and get towards the hoop if he had a move that would allow him to do so.

  • Post scoring

    Horford trolls the free throw line swinging the ball from side to side, Dwight Howard trolls the paint.

    come playoffs Horford just trolls

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