Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford Is the Most Underrated Big Man in the NBA

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Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford Is the Most Underrated Big Man in the NBA
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Al Horford might be the most underrated big man in the NBA

That is not necessarily a bad thing, because being underrated means that people appreciate your work and believe that you should get more recognition for it.

It drives you, it motivates you, it pushes you to become a better player, and most importantly, it beats being overrated, right?

Well, Horford is in his fifth year in the NBA, so there are no excuses anymore.

If he is going to make the leap—if he truly is capable of being the cornerstone of a franchise—he has to prove it this season alongside Josh Smith as one of the team’s pillars.

In a team with 12 expiring contracts, including Smith’s, Horford may just be the key factor for the team to find out just how far it can go—before it knows what to do at the trade deadline.

Right now, he is playing at an outstanding level; that explains why Atlanta is 9-5, giving its fans hope that renovation doesn’t necessarily mean rebuilding.

Horford currently leads the Hawks in rebounding with 9.5 boards per game, is second in scoring with 15.9 points per game (Josh Smith is the team leader in that category with 16.1) and is third among all centers in the league with 3.5 dimes per game.

Not too shabby, huh?  

His Dwight Howard-like 52.3 free-throw percentage this season leaves something to be desired, but unlike Dwight, this could be considered an aberration, not a trend.

He has never shot below 73 percent from the line in any of his previous four seasons, so expect for him to bounce back in that area. There will be no Hack-A-Horford.   

The 26-year-old center isn’t flashy, but he isn’t pure brute strength either.

His biggest asset is his ability to do more with less, like last Friday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If you look at the cold, hard numbers, you would say that Anderson Varejao played better than Al Horford—20 points and 18 rebounds for the Brazilian center, 15 and 11 for the Dominican big man.

Horford took the same amount of shots as his opponent, 12 total, and had seven less rebounds, but he also ended up having a plus/minus of plus-six compared to minus-five for Varejao.

That is unexpected, considering the Cavs won, and one would think 20 points and 18 rebounds would mean Cleveland fared better, not worse, as a team with Varejao on the court.

Horford’s plus/minus was in the red during three of his first four games of the current season, but he has had a positive impact ever since then, boasting positive numbers in that statistical category.  

In fact, four of Atlanta´s five most effective lineups this season have come to fruition with Horford on the court.

Lineup 1 (+46): Teague/Korver/Stevenson/Smith/Horford  

Lineup 2 (+33):  Teague/Korver/Smith/Horford/Pachulia

Lineup 3 (+14):  Teague/L. Williams/Morrow/Smith/Pachulia

Lineup 4 (+14): Teague/Harris/Korver/Smith/Horford

Lineup 5 (+12): Williams/Korver/Smith/Horford/Pachulia

There is one word for having that kind of impact, and that word is "catalyst." Horford seems to jump-start any lineup he is in.

Horford has the kind of impact, with multiple combinations on the floor that neither Chris Bosh or Dwight Howard have, just to cite two examples of two other elite big men that could be considered better than the Hawks' big man right now.

Speaking of Bosh, the Miami Heat PF/C might be the only big man in the NBA other than Dirk Nowitzki that could be considered ¨automatic" from mid-range.    

Horford's field-goal percentage has never dipped below 49.9 percent in his career or 52.5 percent after his rookie year, thanks to his ability to dominate below the rim and expand his game out to the 16 to 20 feet range, where he becomes a nightmare for opposing bigs to guard.

Horford's impact also comes at the defensive end, where his presence inside helps the Hawks in such a way that they are sixth in the NBA in points allowed with just 93.5.

According to Hoopdata.com, his defensive rebound is listed at 21.6. Tyson Chandler, last year's Defensive Player of the Year, checks in at 20.7.

Defensive rebounds are particularly big for the Hawks, since every rebound means an opportunity to run and execute on the break with their up-tempo offense.

Numbers never lie. Horford may not get as much press as other prominent power forwards and centers, but he doesn't seem to need it.

Horford knows better than anybody that wins speak much louder than words.

If both he and the Hawks keep up what they are doing, his third All-Star berth could be just around the corner.

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