Many people do not think Al Horford should be the long term answer at center for the Atlanta Hawks. And in almost anyone's estimation, Zaza Pachulia would be an excellent long term solution for the back up center role. It is an odd situation to be in. Zaza has set the example for what Hawks fans desire for a backup without there being any consensus on what the starter should look like.
In his first two years, Al Horford has been a serviceable center. He rebounds well, defends admirably, and can score efficiently, but he does none of these three things at an elite level. It is tough to contend that those shortcomings are simply the facts, the reality of Horford's ceiling as a center in the is league. Considering his usage rat, youth, and the Hawks inability to play a style that benefits him, many variable that would seemingly improve Al as a player have yet to be tested. What if he received 12-15 shots a game, what if the Hawks play more up tempo, what if Al improves that 12 foot jumper as much from year two to year three as he did from year one to year two? These are questions we do not have answers to but the more likely outcome would seem to be a better Al Horford.
It leaves the Hawks with three scenarios. Move Al to power forward, accept Horford ceiling as an about average center, or switch up the variables.
Moving Al to power forward
I say move Al to power forward with the firm belief that would mean trading Josh Smith. The Inspector does not have the shooting range or lateral quickness to stay with small forwards in this league. And with the leadership, worth ethic, and desire to get better Al Horford displays on a nightly basis, it would be tough to draw a line in the sand between building around Al or Josh and choose Josh. The sentence you would have to finish is "we are moving Al Horford to power forward because _____." The answers I come up with for that word problem do not rationalize the roster overall and risk that would occur.
He is who we thought he was
Even in this system, with this amount of touches, and this role, Al Horford is going to get better. He will learn the nuances of rebounding, knock down that jumper, slightly improve his post game. Big Al's attitude and desire to win alone will push him to be a better player. So you ask, knowing slight improvement is ahead, which center in the league do you want more than Horford? Howard or course. I could go with Nene. Shaq maybe. Andrew Bynum probably (but with that contract and injuries?). That is about it. I don't want Amare at the five or old man Big Z or Samuel Dalembert or even creaky knees Greg Oden. Chris Kaman? Really. The grass just isn't always greener. Horford right now is in the better half of centers in the league, and whatever his ideal position should not factor into that truth. I think it is tough to argue for a massive change in offensive scheme or a switch in position because we are worried Al Horford is going to get destroyed by Dwight Howard. Everyone gets destroyed by Dwight Howard.
Changing the vision
Hoopinion has named it. Sekou Smith has clamored for it to change. And in this cross roads off season it must be mentioned. Mike Woodson runs an offense that caters almost completely to the back court. If the offense worked for anyone, it was Joe, Bibby, and Flip. Bibby could spot of three, Joe could shoot in bunches, and Flip had the freedom to do what he wanted (which of course was shoot). With two of those guys unrestricted free agents and the third becoming so next summer, is it time to start catering to the front court? Both Josh and Al thrive in the up tempo. Josh and to some extent Al become more focused, active players when they are involved offensively. And they are young possible cornerstones for this organization.
In 2011, Al Horford is going to have plenty of offers from other teams. If nothing changes, they are going to see a leader who is averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds and have no reservations faxing an offer sheet. If the Hawks really have no desire to move Al Horford to power forward or trade him, they are either saying they plan to invest handsomely in the long-term future of Al Horford or that they plan to lose him for nothing. Seeing as how the former seems to be the only option, now may be the time to transition this Hawks team toward one where Al Horford the center can truly thrive.
Zaza Pachulia is going to have a lot of interest from other teams. Most of that will come from teams looking for a quality backup. Unless a team throws starting money and time at Zaza, I think the Hawks sit in good position to resign him.
If they don't, this is not a "well, shoot we missed him. oh well" sort of situation. The Hawks need a backup. And no Solomon Jones is not the correct answer. They need a guy who can come in and play 15-20 minutes a night. I love Zaza, but Marcin Gortat would not be a bad consolation prize. With the Magics run to the finals, they almost certainly will want to keep their core in tact which means resigning Hedo Turkoglu to a pretty big deal. That will make it very tough to resign if the Hawks put in a market value offer.
And if the Hawks draft BJ Mullens with the idea that he will back up Horford, I will simply cry.