Jason Walker warned us all but I admit I didn't listen. Back on January 3, Jason wrote this piece explaining why the Atlanta Hawks were going to get left out with no All-Star Game representatives. I didn't believe because at the time I had good reason but at this point it looks as if Jason probably nailed it.
Here was my reasoning for disagreeing with Jason. At the time the Hawks were in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. They had been there virtually all season and were right behind the East leaders in Miami and New York. While perennial selection Joe Johnson is no longer in Atlanta, the Hawks still have Al Horford who is a two-time selection himself. The of course they have Josh Smith whose time was supposed to have come. More on that in a bit.
As Jason points out, the elimination of the center designation in the All-Star selection process hurts Horford. Not to put a damper on any of Al's previous selections but there is usually a number of deserving forwards and guards that aren't selected while coaches might have to turn over a rock or two to find a worthy center.
All true but I was still hanging to the belief that this was Josh Smith's year at any rate and the Hawks were the surprise team of the Eastern Conference.
Two and a half weeks later everything has changed. Currently the Hawks have lost seven of 10, slid to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings and saw Josh Smith suspended for a game due to a blow up at practice. So its a longshot at best and quite frankly what this team may need the most is a few days away from basketball and each other, but if the Eastern Conference All-Star team did come knocking then this is who they should consider.
Horford is a two-time selection so he has the experience and is averaging a career-high 15.6 points per game which is currently second on the team. He is averaging a team-best 9.8 rebounds per game while also handing out 3.3 assists per night. Both those numbers are slightly under his previous career-highs. Horford mans the center position more often than not for the Hawks despite being undersized in a lot of matchups while being one season removed from a torn pectoral injury.
Horford is not without his faults this season. His free throw percentage has sunk to a career-low. He has appeared passive at times and like many of his teammates has an affinity for the perimeter jump shot. However, he leads the team in win shares and is at the top or near top in many advanced metrics. If this team deserves an All-Star then it is Al Horford.
This was supposed to be Smith's All-Star campaign and was going to be a huge bargaining chip for his offseason negotiations for a new contract. The thing about Smith is that he is so talented that he is often held to a much higher standard than any of his teammates. His talent affects the team more than any other player both positively and negatively.
Smith is averaging a team-best 16.8 points and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per night. He also is handing out 3.9 assists while blocking 2.3 shots a game. Smith is having a good season statistically but by his standards some of his numbers are down.
I can forgive the scoring because he is attempting less shots this season than last. Its troublesome that he is attempting more three-point shots in 2012-13 than he did last season while overall taking 1.3 less shots. Even with the questionable shot selection, Smith is still shooting a respectable 44 percent from the field but his free throw percentage has plummeted again to a career-worst 52 percent.
I'm not convinced that any of the numbers matter in Smith's candidacy for an All-Star spot. He has put up good stats before but has been passed over for unnamed reasons. Smith's on court demeanor and shot selection has hurt him in the past with Eastern Conference coaches. His suspension this season will be another huge barrier for him to overcome and just adds ammunition for his detractors.
Personally I am pulling for Smith to find a way on this team. I think the experience would be a good thing for him and it would eliminate that monkey from his back. However, as we have seen in the past, Smith has often used his annual snub as a chip to place on his shoulder and has responded with a surge in the second half. Either way it is a good thing for the Hawks.