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Al Horford, the backstop

In baseball, even with this era of great hitting catchers, the backstop is the second most lenient spot in regards to low offensive production. With calling the game, finessing the pitcher, playing active defense on every play from a crouched position, it all adds up. For every catcher, the actual catching has to be the first priority which makes great hitting catcher all the more phenomenal.

Al Horford is our catcher.

"A lot of times I've been focusing so hard on holding it down in the post for our team that I haven't focused as much on offense."

Horford is 6'10'', 240 lbs, big by any standards except NBA center ones. He is outweighed by the guy he is guarding by sometimes more than 70 pounds. Defense becomes a full-time job. And it is a job he does surprisingly well. Add the fact that big Al is called on to hold together more intangibles on the offensive end than any other starter and you have a guy juggling a lot of balls before he ever gets in a position to score.

It could be argued that a number of guys could have filled the role of what Horford did for the Atlanta Hawks in 2007-2008, but it was Horford who stepped in, and no one can argue that team misses the playoffs without him in the lineup. The man is a leader. He was the lottery gel that brought all that other lottery talent together. And he was what so few players are coming into the league, consistent on top of consistent. 10 points and 10 boards every night (give or take a point here and a rebound there). He is so consistent you sometimes forget he was drafted third overall. Horford just seems to be a guy who you can accept for who he is. Because somewhere in us, no matter how subconscious, we know Al Horford is our catcher. That he earns his money in ways we don't even see.

And because Horford has acted like a veteran ever since he put on a Hawks jersey, it is easy to forget he is entering his third year in the league. That "big leap" year that other top five picks circle is upon us, and all Hawks fans hope is that maybe Horford gets an extra half a rebound this year. He has out veteranized himself. Somehow the idea that big men develop slower and the league takes serious adjustment had not applied to Al because he came developed. In fact, he was the one adjusting the team, but maybe our catcher has lulled us to sleep. Maybe this really is his third year. Maybe Al is ready to take his place behind Dwight Howard as the elite (if totally different) center in the East.

That is not to say everyone is satisfied. I grow horse demanding big Al gets/demands more touches. I have seen large men cry at Horford coming out of the game with five minutes to go in the first quarter with two fouls. And people will claim Horford has been consistent and he has been efficient, but those numbers will not go up one for one with more touches. Horford is too wooden with his post moves, lacks the athleticism, and all the like.

And so there was some groaning when Horford announced he worked on his jumper all summer. Jumper? You are our center. Your post moves are what need work. Well, not to push the analogy too far, but catchers don't work on stealing bases all that much either. Horford is undersized at center. It is much more beneficial to avoid the size disadvantage down low, to pull a shot clocking presence out of the paint, and to get two efficient points. Kind of smart. But what do you expect from a catcher.

In the end, you can replace any part of what Al Horford does with another guy, but you are going to be hard pressed to replace every part. He will never be a true center, but he already is a very good one. And if Mike Woodson follows through on his promise to get Al more involved on the offensive end, the Hawks might have the most impressive 15 and 10 guy in the league.

Other player previews: Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Mo Evans, Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague