Sure, Smith is a joy to watch with his explosiveness and ability to guard any position. But there is a reason Smith has been snubbed from the All-Star Game for eight consecutive seasons.
While a fan favorite that grew up in Atlanta, Smith can be a pain with his immature attitude. He even sat out for the Nets game on Jan. 16 due to a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
Coaches, who choose All-Star reserves, do not normally vote for a guy with that kind of behavior.
Horford, on the other hand, deserves to be an All-Star for the third time. He is a defensive-minded big who is a versatile force on offense.
What is most impressive about Horford is that he has played out of position since joining the league. He plays the 5 but is obviously a power forward.
He has a nice stat sheet with 15.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.2 assist per game, as of Jan. 18.
It's not all about the numbers, though.
His work ethic not only boosts team morale, but gives head coach Larry Drew much less to worry about in the reliability department.
After missing four months due to a shoulder injury last season, Horford came back in time to make his presence significant in the playoffs.
Even though Horford missed his first game of the season, against the Brooklyn Nets Jan. 18, he has started every other game and has averaged 36.8 minutes.
Other than his atrocious free-throw shooting (a career-low 59 percent), Horford has been the closest to the complete package for the Hawks.
Horford is naturally a power forward and has no business playing at center. Regardless, he still has been an impact on the inside game. Horford recently said in an interview that he spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his post moves.
He is not near the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, centers Horford grew up watching, but he is only in his fifth season. He has a great chance to be like those legends within a few years. His ability to shoot the outside jumper already sets him apart from most centers.
In this clip, Horford scored a season-high 26 points with 13 rebounds, three blocks and two assists on Nov. 26 against the Charlotte Bobcats. As you can see, Horford was lighting it up from all areas of the court. He came up with lay-ins, lay-ups, hook shots, dunks, jumpers—you name it, he did it.
Horford put up his 20th double-double of the season after posting 17 points and 13 boards in their 109-95 win against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 16.
Wins like these are a main reason the Hawks are steady contenders in the playoffs. How Horford stepped up without Smith is exactly the kind of performance the Hawks need to keep their postseason hopes afloat.
The Hawks are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, no thanks to them losing seven of their last 10 games.
Impact on Team
It was easy to see that the Hawks missed Horford in their rematch with Brooklyn on Jan. 18. It was close throughout the game, but the Hawks crumbled in the end, which has been a song we've all heard too many times.
Notice a difference here?
This is the same Nets team the Hawks blew out two days prior at home, without Smith. They play them without Horford and it is a difference scene.
His presence definitely was missed. Zaza Pachulia started for Horford and was a non-factor, fouling out with only four points and six rebounds.
Even last year the Hawks struggled to overcome Horford's four-month absence. Coach Larry Drew said at the time (via ESPN), "The talent is huge. But the leadership and the presence, he's the glue for us."
Indeed, he is.
Look at the numbers: in the 22 games Atlanta has won, Horford averaged 16.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. The Hawks lost their 18th game without him in the lineup, which is a huge hole not only on the stat sheet, but in the locker room.
The Hawks' offense continues to be inconsistent. Either they will be the Hawks team that controls the momentum of the game from start to finish, or they are the Hawks as of late: dominant in the first three quarters only to lose in the end.
That can be very discouraging, but Horford continues to see potential in the team's development.
“I told you guys our practice on Tuesday was the best one all year and I think we came out and showed why,” Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the Nets game Jan. 16. “Our focus was better and we just have to keep that up.”
Throughout the season, Horford has been the most vocal about he and his teammates adapting to Drew's lineup changes. In the Hawks' 109-100 win against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 29, Horford accepted the leadership role easily while Smith sat out due to a hip injury.
It was a tough victory for Atlanta, but Horford said it only showed what the team is capable of.
"I think it showed growth from our team being in a position where they made a run at us and we needed to score," Horford told the Associated Press after that game.
It was evident last season, and it was evident on Jan. 18 against the Nets: the Hawks need Al Horford more than any player on the team. After all, he did enter the Draft as a back-to-back NCAA champion. The brother knows how to win.
Most importantly, Horford knows his value to the team.
How He Stacks Up Against Other Centers
Horford, at 6'10", is a small center. I have made that clear.
Yet, he still manages to stand his ground.
He is third among centers with 20 double-doubles on the season, behind Dwight Howard (23) and J.J. Hickson (22). He is also third with his 3.2 assists per game.
He is ninth among centers with his .529 field goal percentage, which is pretty phenomenal considering his shot range.
Horford is in a conference that is crowded with frontcourt talent. Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh, New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler and Nets center Brook Lopez all stand in the way of Horford's third trip to the All-Star Game.
The name recognition could go in any of those guys' favor, but Horford is a fundamentally-sound big who can play the entire game with unchanging intensity.
He is a big that can perform on both sides of the ball, and his presence on the All-Star team would prove just as valuable as it is on the Hawks.