The Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks each decided to change things up a bit following their playoff exits. When free agency rolled around, both teams had similar lists of whom they wanted to target. First on the list was Kevin Durant, and I think we all know how that turned out. Next on the list for each franchise was signing the best available free-agent center, a choice between Dwight Howard or Al Horford. This eventually led to Atlanta shocking the entire NBA community by immediately locking up Howard on a three-year deal worth $70.5 million. The move then gave Boston the chance to acquire their newly coveted big man Al Horford, with a four-year deal worth $103 million.
With the core of the rosters set, there are still a few question marks surrounding the two big men and their new clubs. Will Howard be able to fit into the Hawks offensive system? Is Al Horford the missing piece for the Celtics? Who will end up having a more successful career with their new team?
First, lets look at this through Atlanta's perspective. Each of the last two seasons Atlanta has been knocked out by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, so clearly what they had going was not good enough to surpass the Eastern Conference champions. With this in mind, it is clear the organization went into free agency with plans to shakeup the roster. Adding a player like Howard was a bold move, one that could make or break the overall success for next year.
It is reasonable to view this move with some skepticism, especially given how the Hawks and coach Mike Budenholzer like to play offensively. Their swing motion-like offense requires mobile big men that are able to move the ball along the perimeter, something that has never been a part of Howard's game. Including Howard into the Hawks' pick and roll game may also be difficult for Atlanta, given how past teammates have been frustrated with his refusal to engage as the roll man. Ex-Laker, Steve Nash, had this to say regarding Howard after a frustrating loss:
"We'd like to get him in the pick and roll more," Nash said. "I think that's how he was really good in Orlando. He'd pick and he'd dive and they'd swing and put it in to him, so he could get deeper catches and the help side has a more difficult time coming to him. I don't know. It's been difficult really to get him into that game – running into pick and rolls, diving hard, looking for the ball. We really haven't found that rhythm from him yet."
This pattern did not end in Los Angeles, Howard brought the same type of attitude towards the pick and roll while in Houston. Take a look at what the numbers say about Howard's latest season (stats provided by synergy):
As you can see, it is not necessarily that Howard is inefficient with the pick and roll game, in fact it may be the opposite. It is more so the fact that Howard refuses to even be a part of rolling to the hoop. Yet somehow, he manages to post up more than Al Jefferson, a player who only specializes in his post-up game. Unless Howard changes his approach to how he plays within the system, he and the new full-time starting point guard Dennis Schroder will end up struggling together.
But even if Howard has a tough time on the offensive side of the ball, Atlanta should be happy with what he adds to the team on the boards. The Hawks ranked 24th in overall rebounding and dead last on the offensive glass. It's an area that the front office felt needed the most improvement, especially with a point guard that is still developing his jump shot, alongside Kyle Korver who's shooting numbers dropped 10 percent last season.
Next, is Al Horford the missing piece for Boston? Maybe not to lead them to a Finals appearance, but certainly enough to allow the Celtics to contend for a shot at the number two seed in the East. This move was desperately needed for the Celtics, and the addition of Horford will now open things up for them on the offensive side of the ball.
Stevens even went into greater detail about the situation in an interview with VICE Sports:
We played [Atlanta] ten times [last season], so we had a pretty good idea of what they were doing and they had an idea of what we were doing. One of the reasons we went after Al really hard on day one was because we thought that he fit in really well with how we play.
One could make the argument that Horford is going to the same team, just with younger talent. However, the key for Horford to succeed in Boston will come down to what he can provide on defense. The Celtics were in the bottom half of the league when it came to blocking shots, but if Horford can protect the rim then Boston's perimeter defenders can afford to be even more aggressive than they were last year.
With all of this in mind, who will have the more successful career over the span of the next few years? Both players will end up being utilized in ways that help their teams, but Horford will have a much greater role with the Celtics than Howard does with the Hawks. This is something that could end up irritating Howard given how he always seems to want a bigger role, possibly damaging his overall effectiveness. Both 30-year-old centers will contribute to bringing their squads to the playoffs, and maybe even get a chance to face off against each other when it matters most.
Photo Credit: (top) USATSI (bottom) Brian Babineau/NBAE
Spencer Tawes 9/16/2016 01:00:00 PM Tweet Edit