Skip to content

Where does Al Horford fit in the positional revolution?

Nov 10, 2010, 7:34 PM EST

Al Horford AP

When we debate and deliberate over the nature of conventional positions and their obvious anomalies (LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, etc.), Al Horford is rarely a name that drives the conversation. Yet, as Bret LaGree pointed out in a video at Hoopinion, Horford may somehow be the Hawks’ best interior and perimeter defender, their strongest post scorer and one of their finest passers. Horford has such a weird combination of offensive and defensive skills that he should have been a part of the positional discussions all along, and yet he’s widely regarded as a proper power forward playing out of position at center.

That said, how weird is it that a team would rely on their power forward to defend Steve Nash for significant portions of a game? And how often do we see that very same player defend Dwight Howard the very next day? Horford is an incredibly versatile defensive prospect with a wide variety of offensive skills, and yet on this particular team, his shot selection is bizarrely similar to that of a typical center.

Yet Horford isn’t a center, at least not in the archetypal sense. For every hook and counter he hits a face up jumper and defends an opposing perimeter player. He’s not a power forward either, for the very same reason. Does that make Horford deserving of some maligned “tweener” label? Or can we just acknowledge that players like Horford don’t have to fit neatly into those five boxes for the sake of convenience?

From an offensive standpoint, Horford is both center and power forward. Defensively, he’s more important than either position. Al rarely gets his due because of Josh Smith’s out-of-control defensive reputation and the perception that Joe Johnson has retained his defensive adequacy from the wonder years, but there should be no question that the Hawks’ defensive competence hinges on Horford. Without him, the combination of Johnson, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford on the perimeter would welcome opponents into the paint and ask them to stay awhile. Smith is a tremendous help-side shot-blocker, but it’s Horford that’s properly hedging, switching when necessary, and rotating to help every one of his teammates.

Maybe that’s what a center — or a power forward, or a “big” — is supposed to do, but the fact that Horford is versatile enough to defend just about anyone when asked should indicate that strange things are afoot. He’s not a power forward playing out of position, even though Horford told me that he considers himself a natural 4. He’s a “center,” nighttiming as a power forward, defending point guards, helping wings, passing, scoring, rebounding, posting up, facing up, running the high post, living on the low block, and living completely outside the positional designation he’s been so arbitrarily assigned.

Latest Posts
  1. Daryl Morey: ‘Take James Harden off our team, and we’re nowhere’

    Feb 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden

    Rockets general manager says he recommended trading ‘everything’ for Harden in 2012

  2. Russell Westbrook takes knee to face, it leaves dent (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EST

    Russell Westbrook AP

    He was evaluated by doctors after the game Friday.

  3. Former All-Star, popular Knick Anthony Mason dies at age 48

    Feb 28, 2015, 10:33 AM EST

    Anthony mason knicks Getty Images

    He had been in the hospital for weeks following multiple heart attacks.

  4. Langston Galloway three forces overtime, Knicks go on to victory (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EST

    New York Knicks v Detroit Pistons Getty Images

    The Knicks got the double OT win in Detroit, this shot was key.

  5. Russell Westbrook posts third straight triple-double, Thunder lose anyway

    Feb 28, 2015, 8:00 AM EST

    Russell Westbrook AP

    Westbrook is averaging a triple-double over his last five games.

  6. Knicks’ Alexey Shved misses shot about as badly as you can (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 1:02 AM EST

    Boston Celtics Vs. New York Knicks TD Garden Getty Images

    To quote Bob Uecker, “juuuuust a bit outside.”

  7. Rumor: Baron Davis planning an NBA comeback. Stop laughing, he’s serious.

    Feb 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EST

    Jordan Brand Melo M9 Shoe Launch Getty Images

    There is about as much chance of me getting a date with Emily Ratajkowski this weekend as there is of this actually happening.

  8. What’s the best way to defend Kings’ cherry-picking idea?

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 PM EST

    NBA teams are considering the question

  9. Daryl Morey believes two bad shots are better than one good shot (always), but data wasn’t significant enough for Jeff Van Gundy to change

    Feb 27, 2015, 7:59 PM EST

    Houston Rockets Draft Picks Press Conference Getty Images

    An interesting anecdote from Morey (speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference) about how the data showed an advantage, but not one big enough for his coach to change.

  10. Re-inventing the Wheel: Mike Zarren presents modified NBA-draft-lottery-reform proposals

    Feb 27, 2015, 6:59 PM EST

    the modified draft wheel

    Instead of 30-year plan, assistant Celtics general manager unveils five-year and 10-year plans

Featured video

Is Derrick Rose the next Penny Hardaway?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (7901)
  2. K. Durant (7178)
  3. S. Curry (6881)
  4. D. Howard (6779)
  5. R. Westbrook (6198)
  1. P. George (6076)
  2. M. Carter-Williams (5770)
  3. B. Beal (5693)
  4. A. Davis (5603)
  5. K. Garnett (5249)