Is Al Horford the NBA’s best center?

question-markWho is the best center in the NBA right now?

Let’s determine with a blind test of the best four centers in the league since the All-Star break.

Center A is averaging 14.4 points on 54% shooting, 14.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 2.1 blocks in eight games.

Center B is averaging 15.8 points on 52% shooting, 8.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks in eight games.

Center C is averaging 13.2 points on 51% shooting, 11.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 3.7 blocks in nine games.

Center D is averaging 23.8 points on 63% shooting, 11.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.0 blocks in nine games.

Now, consider that each of these centers plays strong individual and team defense and also stars for a team in the thick of the playoff hunt. Moreover, each of these centers has also been an All-Star at least once in their careers.

Which player do you take?

Sure, Center C’s defensive stats are impressive and Center B’s assist totals match the numbers of several starting point guards. However, as I imagine most will agree, Center D’s scoring and all-around dominance is overwhelming for this exercise.

Center A is Dwight Howard. While he has long been the consensus top center in the league, most would agree he has lost his grip on the title with his inconsistent play and team chemistry issues throughout the season.

Center B is Marc Gasol. Since Howard’s decline, many insiders have anointed Gasol as the new top center in the league. His overall court awareness is outstanding, and although his block totals are uninspiring, his overall size and presence on the defensive end makes him a contender for Defensive Player of the Year.

Center C is Joakim Noah. Coming off his first All-Star selection, Noah has notably improved on offense and plays as hard as anyone in the league every night. With his absurd 23-21-11 block performance on Feb. 28, fans are starting to recognize that Noah is  legitimate.

Now, here comes the surprise:

Center D is Al Horford. Surprised to see Horford own such a dominant stat line? If you are, it is probably because Horford is a microcosm of his Atlanta Hawks team – consistently successful and even more consistently overlooked.

Of late, however, Horford has been more than just “successful” and “overlooked” – he has been downright dominant and ignored. With 20-plus points in 10 of his past 11 games, Horford is playing the best basketball of his life.

Think about it: How many centers in the league are consistently trusted to start his team’s fast break after a rebound? How many of those also are considered automatic shooters from 15 feet? If any remain, how many of those are not yet in their primes? Any besides Horford?

When you factor in Horford’s tremendous locker room presence and on-court intensity, it is clear that he deserves more consideration as the league’s best center.

So, what is Horford doing of late that has helped him emerge among the NBA’s elite?220px-Al_Horford2

“The only thing different that I’m seeing is that he is really playing within himself on everything that he’s doing,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “There is no hesitation now when he gets the ball on the offensive end, particularly on the pick-and-roll. He’s looking for his shot and he’s being a bit more aggressive.”

For a team that has dealt with the losses of Joe Johnson’s scoring through an offseason  trade and Lou Williams’ scoring through a season-ending ACL tear, Horford’s production has been indispensable for the Hawks (34-26).

“I think that we are playing through me a lot more as a team. I am having the ball a lot and I’m just making plays,” noted Horford. “I feel like I am in a good offensive rhythm right now.”

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