2012 Summer Olympics: What Would Al Horford Mean to the Tournament?

Charles Bennett@chasbennettonbrSenior Analyst IMay 10, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 08:  Forward Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks dunks during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at Philips Arena on May 8, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Hawks forward-center Al Horford had been out for most of the 2011-12 NBA season, but returned to action for Game 4 of the first-round series against the Celtics.

Which brings up the question of what would happen if Al Horford played for the Dominican Republic basketball team. One site reported that Horford intends to play, but most others have it as an open question.

A two-time All-Star and All-NBA Third Team in 2011, Horford would be one of most prominent non-American big men in the Olympics, in part due to his accurate shooting (over .550 each of the last three seasons) and rebounding (9.5 rebounds a game career).  

The only other non-American big men who could challenge Horford both have the surname Gasol.

Then again, that's assuming that the Dominican Republic makes the tournament. The Dominican Republic has to win in the qualifying tournament held in Venezuela in early July.  

This is a fairly likely scenario. Horford is easily the most talented player in the tournament, a tournament that also consists of squads from Russia, South Korea, (both of whom the Dominican Republic will face in pool play), Lithuania, Greece, Macedonia, Angola, New Zealand, Macedonia, Jordan, Venezuela and Nigeria.

Most of the squads are fielding talent from the Euroleague, D-League, NCAA or the benches of the NBA. The closest player to Horford in talent from any squad is Puerto Rican guard J.J. Barea; no big man from any of the squads comes remotely close to Horford.

The Dominican Republic has a relatively easy road to qualification: beat South Korea (who is ranked 31st and has neither NBA or Euroleague talent) to qualify for the knockout stage, win a knockout game against Angola, New Zealand or Macedonia (none of whom are ranked in the top 12 internationally) and then win a semifinal or consolation game to finish in the top three of the tournament.

The Dominican Republic's squad is also skippered by legendary college coach John Calipari and has a roster that also features Charlie Villanueva, Francisco Garcia and several good young prospects.

Since two of the teams of the qualifying tournament will be drawn into the same pool play group as the United States, if the Dominican Republic makes the Olympic Games, it's better than even money they'll play the U.S. in pool play.  And doing that would play to the U.S.' biggest weakness: not having a true center other than Tyson Chandler.

Bottom line: If Al Horford makes the Dominican Republic's squad, we could very easily see the Dominican Republic do well in the qualifying.