The Atlanta Hawks and their three-time All-Star big man Al Horford could not have asked for a better season than the one that unfolded in 2014-15.
The Hawks won 60 games en route to receiving the No. 1 seed in the East. There were four All-Stars representing the team in New York at last year’s All-Star game. A first-ever Eastern Conference finals appearance and a level of popularity that more than rivaled both the Braves and Falcons filled Phillips Arena all season long. Good times were had by all.
A lot of that has to do with Horford coming back healthy after missing 53 games the previous season.
Career years by starting point guard Jeff Teague, shooting guard Kyle Korver and power forward Paul Millsap along with wing man (and current Toronto Raptor) DeMarre Carroll all added up to the greatest year in Atlanta Hawks history (for whatever that’s worth), but none of that is possible without Horford.
One of the League’s most versatile players, Horford averaged 3.2 assists and 1.3 blocks per game despite playing out of position at center to better get the most out of Millsap.
His 15.2 points per game (third on the team after Millsap and Teague, respectively) and 7 rebounds per game don’t tell the Dominican born big man’s value to his team. During the 2013-14 season, when Horford was out for the majority of the regular season, the Hawks finished 38-44, making the Playoffs but losing to Indiana in seven games. The following season with Horford playing 76 games, the team has a season of a lifetime. Coincidence? Not likely.
Horford’s unselfish play—he only took 12.7 shots per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field—keeps defenders honest while he also doubles as the Hawks’ best interior defender and post playmaker.
He’s also clutch. Case in point: Game 5 of their second-round Playoff series against the Washington Wizards, Phillips Arena. Horford’s 23-point, 11-rebound and 5-block game helped put the Hawks in position to win the game. His putback of a Dennis Schroder miss with less than two seconds remaining on the clock made winning a reality.
The math is simple: With Al Horford on the floor, the Hawks are one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
The son of a former NBA player (Tito Horford) and the older brother of current Milwaukee Buck and former Michigan Wolverine, Jon Horford, Al was set to play for the Dominican National Team this summer in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Horford has always been a winner on every level—Michigan Class A Player of the Year out of Grand Ledge High School, back-to-back NCAA Champion at Florida in 2006 and 2007, SEC tournament MVP in 2007 and NBA All-Rookie First-Team in 2008.
All the man does is win and headed into the 2015-16 season with the entire Eastern Conference, Horford will needed more than ever to be, well…Al Horford.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.