NBA Sunday: Hungrier Al Horford Leading Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of five consecutive contests, and are currently perched third in the Eastern Conference standings behind Miami and New York.
One of the driving forces behind the team’s early success has been the leadership and play of two-time All-Star center Al Horford.
Horford missed the majority of the 2012 campaign after suffering a torn pectoral muscle and says the time away from the court has actually made him hungrier and also helped him to gain a better appreciation for the game itself.
“No question,” Horford said to HOOPSWORLD on the injury helping him rediscover a love for the game. “I’m definitely a lot hungrier now to be better and to help our team be the best team that we can be. I feel very confident with the team we have. I just want us to keep building each day because I think we haven’t reached the ceiling for our team yet and that’s something to look forward to.”
Being aggressive offensively is an area of the game where Horford has been much more assertive this season. The sixth-year center is averaging a career-high 13 field goal attempts per game, which is up nearly four attempts per appearance compared to last season. During the Hawks’ first twelve games, Horford has registered fewer than double-digit shot attempts just once.
“I had a chance to grow last year by sitting out and watching the game,” Horford said. “It gave me a different perspective on how the offense flows by watching Josh [Smith] and Zaza [Pachulia]. I picked up things, which helped my game. So [being aggressive] was one of the things I tried to focus on this offseason.”
There were plenty of questions facing the new-look Hawks entering the season. Outside of the departure of six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson, who was traded to Brooklyn, the team has at least eight guys on the roster essentially playing in contract years.
Horford says he is encouraged by the professionalism displayed early on by his teammates heading toward free agency and doesn’t see any hint of me-first mentalities creeping into the locker room.
“It’s early in the year but I am encouraged to see that guys are about the team and about playing the right way,” Horford said. “That’s important. When we play like that, I think that’s when we’re at our best. When we are not sharing the ball as much, I think that’s when we get into trouble.”
“I think we’re still adjusting,” Horford added. “I think we’re ways away from really clicking the way we want. It’s a good thing because we’re [8-4], but there is still room to grow.”
The Hawks have a strong chance to improve their positioning in the Eastern Conference standings over the next two weeks. The team will play their next four contests at home versus Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver and Washington. Out of this group, Denver was the only franchises to reach the playoffs a season ago, while Washington remains the league’s last remaining winless team (0-11).
Jimmy Butler Talks Expanded Role and Chicago’s Early Struggles
The Chicago Bulls finished with the league’s best regular season record in each of the past two campaigns, but have struggled to duplicate their success during the early going of this season. Not surprisingly, most of the struggles can directly be attributed former league MVP Derrick Rose’s absence from the lineup.
While Rose continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee, the Bulls press on and are looking for more players to step up in bigger roles than in years past.
One player who has had his number called more this season is second-year forward Jimmy Butler. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has doubled Butler’s minutes over his rookie campaign and the former Marquette standout has delivered shooting close to 53 percent from the floor and 90 percent from the free throw line.
Butler says he feels the pressure to contribute more than ever and it’s a task he’s not taking lightly.
“It feels great,” Butler said to HOOPSWORLD on his expanded role this season. “I feel like I’m learning a lot still. But I feel like the role has definitely increased and I have to perform more. I have to perform better for that matter. I’m constantly in the gym, constantly around my guys to get closer and get better as a whole.”
Butler also weighed in on the Bulls’ early struggles, holding the fort down without Rose in the lineup and the difficult task of replacing the “bench mob” from last season in this exclusive interview with HOOPSWORLD.
Andrew Bynum Out Indefinitely, Will 76ers Seek Additional Frontcourt Help?
The news Philadelphia 76ers fans were hoping to avoid has arrived. Sixers officials have cast serious doubts on whether All-Star center Andrew Bynum will even take the floor for the franchise this season due to his problematic knees.
Sixers general Manager Tony DiLeo told the media Saturday the club no longer has a definitive timeline on Bynum’s return to the court.
“Bottom line is Andrew is out indefinitely,” DiLeo said according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. “There are no timelines; we just have to wait and see how he reacts.”
The Sixers acquired Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade this past offseason in which they also shipped All-Star forward Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. DiLeo says Bynum’s knee problems have worsened since the mega deal.
“His knees now and the MRIs are not the same; it’s a different type (of) situation,” DiLeo added. “At the time of the trade, we had four doctors look at his MRI; we knew it was a calculated risk. We also knew we were getting the second-best center in the league, a franchise-type player. We took that risk.”
Bynum was expected to assume a major role in head coach Doug Collins’ lineup this season, with the belief he could continue developing into a franchise player.
With Bynum on the shelf indefinitely it is possible the Sixers look to add a veteran big man for additional depth. Two options are Eddy Curry, who played earlier this season with the Dallas Mavericks, and veteran forward Kenyon Martin who has been actively lobbying for another opportunity in the league.
The Sixers currently have 14 players on the roster and wouldn’t have to waive someone to clear up a spot if they decide to pursue a free agent option.