Skip to content

Where does Al Horford fit in the positional revolution?

Nov 10, 2010, 7:34 PM EDT

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. Report: Ramon Sessions signs 2-year deal with Kings

    Sep 20, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT

    Ramon Sessions AP

    Sessions could start at point guard for Sacramento.

  2. Report: Former NBA player Rex Chapman arrested for stealing product from Apple store

    Sep 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    Rex Chapman, Ashley Judd Rex Chapman, Ashley Judd

    Chapman played four years for the Suns, and is facing charges in Scottsdale, AZ.

  3. Andrew Bogut is feeling healthy, takes charges on D at Warriors scrimmage

    Sep 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT

    Andrew Bogut AP

    Must-read quote from Bogut on how he does NOT want to be perceived.

  4. All PBT’s NBA team previews in one convenient spot

    Sep 19, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT

    San Antonio Spurs v Miami Heat - Game 7 Getty Images

    This post is here to make life easier for you when you want to find these at the end of the season and point out how wrong we were.

  5. UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks

    Sep 19, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    New York Knicks v Phoenix Suns Getty Images

    It has to be a sign and trade and Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of leverage here.

  6. Jeff Green says he wants to be leader on Celtics this season

    Sep 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Jeff Green AP

    “It was more just becoming a better all-around player, trying to take the next step and become a leader on this team and will my team to win.” —Jeff Green

  7. James Dolan enlists Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire to break world kazoo record

    Sep 19, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT

    dolan stoudemire anthony kazoo

    And you wonder why Phil Jackson is worth $12 million a year to the Knicks organization.

  8. Hawks’ Budenholzer adjusting to coach/GM role, had mentor for many years in Popovich

    Sep 19, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    Mike Budenholzer

    Budenholzer got thrust into a position with the power a lot of coaches covet.

  9. Cavaliers sign Lou Amundson

    Sep 19, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT

    Serge Ibaka, Lou Amundson Serge Ibaka, Lou Amundson

    Will he make Cleveland’s regular-season roster?

  10. LeBron James unveils latest signature shoe from Nike: The LEBRON 12

    Sep 19, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT

    9.15.14 Nike LeBron 12 Launch

    Full recap from the launch event at Nike World Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, including technical information, details on colorways, and confirmed release dates.

  11. ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Toronto Raptors

    Sep 19, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors - Game Seven Getty Images

    Kyle Lowry and Co. return for another run

Featured video

What players stood out at World Cup?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (2646)
  2. L. James (2573)
  3. R. Rondo (2528)
  4. K. Bryant (2279)
  5. K. Irving (2252)
  1. E. Bledsoe (2083)
  2. R. Allen (1776)
  3. D. Favors (1666)
  4. J. Valanciunas (1657)
  5. K. Durant (1613)