I’ve made frequent reference to Gothic Ginobili’s NBA Player Capsule series from last summer, in particular to Aaron McGuire’s capsule on Al Horford. It’s worth another look, particularly his opening argument:
I don’t think there are many people who understand how good Horford is, when he’s on the court. Seriously. For the past two or three years, I’ve been waiting for him to have a fully healthy year where people actually watch the Hawks and start to understand how lights out he’s been for that team.
Last season, Horford had the healthy season McGuire has been waiting for. However, with no All-Star selection to show for it, Horford seems entrenched in the category of under-appreciated players. Or is he? Hoopsworld has been doing a series on the top six players at each position, and writer Tommy Beer ranks Horford the 4th-best center in the NBA. Further, Beer quotes an astounding stat:
Horford has now appeared in 391 regular season games, and has posted a composite average of 13.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks, while shooting 53.9 percent from the floor. Per Elias, this places him in elite company, as only four other players matched those averages through the same number of games played – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Artis Gilmore.
I previously stated the importance of constructing a roster to Horford’s liking ahead of his impending 2016 free agency. Since that writing, Hawks GM Danny Ferry claimed Gustavo Ayon off waivers from the Bucks. Ferry is on pace to make a career out of picking on Milwaukee. If you read McGuire’s capsule on Ayon, you will see that he’s a player with a lot of tools that needs the right situation. Horford wanted help on the inside and Ferry added a pair of 7-foot impact defenders in a matter of weeks.
The only thing that’s lacking at this point is wing defense. Ferry finally signed the first small forward of his tenure as Hawks GM, DeMarre Carroll. Two players that could add further depth to the position would be Al Harrington and Ivan Johnson. Harrington wouldn’t add much defensively but he’s better-qualified to start at small forward than Carroll or Kyle Korver. Johnson, who reportedly has interest from six teams, is a two-way difference maker at all three front-court positions.
In fact, I’ll argue that Johnson should be the opening night starter at small forward for the Hawks. We know that Ivan tends to fall in love with the elbow jumper, but he balances it by attacking the rim off the dribble. In two seasons with the Hawks, Johnson shot 326-for-631 (52%). Only Horford (54%) shot better for the Hawks during that span. This indicates that Johnson does not over-rely on the outside shot.
What do you look for in a small forward? You look for a jumper that’s not as bad as Josh Smith’s, the ability to attack the basket off the dribble and the foot speed and strength to guard LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Johnson checks out better on that list than any current Hawks player.
Despite my previous speculation, it is now evident that Ferry is in win-now mode. Harrington would be a nice pickup but Johnson, aside from being a fan favorite, is the most high-impact player still available at the Hawks’ greatest position of need. If Ferry hopes to keep the value of his available trade assets high by making the Hawks as competitive as they can be, there’s no other player who improves the Hawks more than Johnson.