Actually, just saying that Al Horford has been on fire lately may be an understatement.
The Hawks’ center has absolutely dominated the month of February, averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists in the ten games during the month. He’s shot over 60% from the field, and even decided to kick it up a notch by racking up a 20-20 game against the Pistons.
Al has credited his recent play to finally getting over nagging injuries with his hamstring, and possibly getting his shoulder back to full strength after his injury last year. The extra rest of the All-Star break (in which Al shouldn’t have been resting) has only helped with Horford’s game, as he’s averaging 24 points and 12 boards in the four games since the break. His current streak of six games with 20 or more points is the longest of his career, with his previous high being three games.
In what ways has Horford been getting it done? Let’s take a look at the shot charts:
The top chart represents Al’s shooting percentages from each spot over that time period; the bottom one purely shows the distribution of shots.
The first thing you may notice is the yellow area in the mid-range game out near the perimeter where we are used to seeing Al light it up. The yellow indicator means Al is shooting +/- 5% from the league average for that spot. However, instead of being above the average like Al usually is, Al was actually shooting below the league average from all but one of these spots. (the league average is around 40-41% for all of those spots)
Of course, from the distribution, you can tell that Al was still doing most of his work around the rim, where he is the most effective from. Has that changed in this recent tear?
Well, let’s look at what Al has been doing recently:
I’m not sure what jumps out more: all of the green, or the lone red spot from the missed three-pointer against Milwaukee. (the shot clock was at three in that case, so I’ll let it slide)
However, besides the straight on shot, Al is actually taking less long-twos that he was at the start of the season by percentage. He’s just making them at a higher clip.
Of course, there’s one more thing: Al is actually taking more shots now than ever. He’s taking almost 15 shots per game this month, compared to just a shade over 13 that he was taking through January. His usage rate for this month (22.9%) is a career-high for any month in Horford’s career.
However, Horford’s increase in usage hasn’t negatively effected other Hawks. In fact, you could argue that it’s been responsible for the opposite; Josh Smith’s usage for this month has been 24.46% (down from 27% in the first three months), and he’s had his most efficient month of the season by shooting over 50% and averaging 19 points, 10 boards, and five assists.
One also has to consider the emergence of Jeff Teague as a factor. Like Horford, Jeff has a career-high for usage rate in a month with 23.76%. The biggest part of this for Jeff is his work inside the paint, as he’s getting to the line almost five times a game, which is about twice as often as the first three months of the season.
Naturally, Jeff getting into the paint more often is going to open up Horford’s mid-range game. While Jeff has been proficient at getting Al open jumpers all season, the increase in prevalence, combined with Horford’s current state of health and confidence, has resulted in this explosion.
Can Horford keep up this kind of dominance? Probably not; the rate he’s playing at right now would make him a top five player in the league in terms of PER. (25.05 for the month of February) However, it does show that Al is a lot closer to being the best center in the league than we previously thought.