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Ziller: Hey, Where's Al Horford?

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From today's SBNation Game 3 preview of the Hawks - Bulls series comes this observation from Tom Ziller:

Horford was fifth among the Hawks in shot attempts (seven) and finished with nine points and 13 rebounds. Horford got more attempts in Game 2 (12, fourth among the Hawks), but struggled, shooting 3-12 for six points and 14 rebounds. The lack of success is a bit mystifying; in three regular season games against Chicago, Horford averaged 17 points on 62 percent shooting. We know Horford can score on Joakim Noah(his college teammate) and Carlos Boozer; after all, he meets the solitary criteria for being able to score on Carlos Boozer: "having a pulse."    

 

For those of us who love watching Al Horford, this isn't altogether a surprise. When the Bulls moved Noah out on Horford, Al's longstanding timidity against taller players, something noted by me before last year's Orlando series and admitted by Horford, has been exposed. What follows is a series of rushed shots, awkward release points, and then, when those shots logically don't go in, he begins to pass on even open shots or shots in the lane.

It's been a bit puzzling, but it has been present for Al's time as a Hawk. The coaches have been fine with letting Al develop his pick and pop game but have done nothing for his post presence. This has forced Al to try against big men the same strategy he has against smaller players. These strategies include trying to shoot over or muscle around those bigger players.

What Al ought to be doing is using his speed to go around the player and get to the basket. Unfortunately, one of the side effects from being an afterthought in the offense under Woodson and Drew is that Horford does not make quick decisions with the basketball, leaving the defense time to adjust to Al having the ball. This makes it more difficult for Al to put the ball on the floor, because now with the defense having time to lean his way, they can make a clean swipe at the ball where, if Al had moved immediately, this may be more likely to be a foul.

Al has shown flashes of this in games like the first Chicago game, the end of the Clipper game, etc. He has added a spin to the baseline from the block to his repertoire in the waning months of the season. He can do it, but the lack of instinct and development of this part of the game makes it inconsistent at best, therefore, he is relying more on his mid-range shot.

Now, however, the Bulls are just sitting on his jump shot, daring Al to make another move to the basket, and do it quickly, understanding that this is a skill still undefined in the All-Star.

I don't expect Chicago to change their approach, so Al is going to have to make them pay for overplaying his jumper by launching more show and gos and taking the ball up strong to get fouled when he gets it near the hoop. He also needs to attack when he flashes to the lane when Joe, Jamal, Josh, and whoever has the ball. He can't sneak around and play passive basketball---he needs to show why he is known in the ATL as "Boss."

 

Afterthought:

Here is a feature video from NBA.com of Horford---even though he has work to do to become a complete player, it's easy to like him...here's hoping he can take the next step. Enjoy.