Some happier news (if not late--considering BS published this last Friday) in the face of a few weeks of hand wringing, Rick Sund bashing, and getting our white flags freshly laundered heading into the playoffs.
Bill Simmons, he of eternal NBA fan guy mindset, has declared that our Al Horford is deserving of recognition on the ALL-NBA scale.
My All-NBA teams look like this ...
First team: Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki. Not sure how anyone can make a case for Kobe over Wade: Wade is a more efficient scorer, he's a better defender, he carried a bigger load from night to night, he rated better with any advance metric you can name (PER, win shares, whatever), and he was playing three-on-five every night. It's no contest. Props to Kobe for gutting it through the season on achy knees without practicing, but if he switched places with Wade this season, the Lakers may have been even better, but there's no way in hell that Miami would have been as good. Period. Your only case for Kobe over Wade is this YouTube clip. That's it.
Second team: Amare Stoudemire, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol. Tough call between Kevin Garnett (the league's best defensive big man other than Howard) and Gasol (the league's most efficient low-post player). I went with Gasol because I'd rather have Gasol for 37 minutes a game than Garnett for 31 (that's what they average this season), and because any Lakers fan who just emailed me to complain about Kobe/Wade now feels stupid for calling me a Laker hater.
Third team: Al Horford, Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and ... Zach Randolph? Paul Pierce? Carmelo Anthony? Blake Griffin? Aldridge was the best of the bunch. The Blazers had every right to pack it in after Oden and Roy went down; Aldridge wouldn't let them.
There have been a number of nit-picky, but valid critiques of Al this season. The biggest? Becoming more of a finesse player offensively, an accusation validated by his more than double shot attempts from 16-23 feet, a drop in shots at the rim, and a significant drop in free throw rate this season from last.
Of course, those are just the stat head voices in me talking. Taking the Derrick Rose for MVP side of the argument, too--the seeing is believing group, I would say that Horford's tendency to shy away from bigger players has not gone away, and his proficiency in his outside shot has helped take away the need to get past that matchup issue. Horford still tends to defer when it comes to fourth quarter action, even if it means he passes on a 17 foot shot to give Josh Smith a 21 footer. Not good.
But for the specks in the eye of Horford's game, there is plenty to understand why Simmons regards Horford as ALL-NBA.
Despite taking more shots from the outside and taking fewer free throws, his True Shooting percentage is almost the same as last years. Meanwhile, his turnover rate has gone down while his assist rate has ballooned, easily leading starting centers in assist/turnover ratio.
All of this while being the guy Larry Drew asks to defend the center position, the tough power forward matchups Josh Smith can't handle, Steve Nash down the stretch, LeBron James the other night, etc.
In other words, even though he floated outside offensively like Josh Smith has, at least Al has been as productive and efficient--more so, actually---while maintaining his intensity inside, and proving himself the most useful channel that the offense can flow through.
Sometimes it's easy to say what one hasn't done or can't do rather than celebrate what the player is doing. Al Horford deserves the national praise that Bill Simmons recognizes (and, btw, it wasn't as if he debated it. Al was a no doubter.) and our own as well.
Here's hoping that, in a disappointing and cloudy regular season, an All-NBA slot is afforded to a guy who has obviously earned it.