Al Horford is a fine player. Given how he functions within the Hawks system, his energetic leadership and his versatility, he is an exceptional player. And now that he is avoiding the surgeon, Horford is a very valuable player.
Horford is a really, really good player.
So, what are we to think about Tommy Heinsohn’s appraisal? The voice of the Celtics recently said of Horford, “as much as you think he’s a great player, he’s not a great player – get a man on him and he has trouble scoring.”
First, you must consider the source. Heinsohn is like most team broadcasters – meaning that he proudly preaches the Celtic doctrine. Only more so, in his case. Think the late Larry Munson, and then double the franchise jingoism. So anyone playing the Celtics in a playoff series is bound to be dismissed by him.
Secondly, Al Horford isn’t a great player.
Certainly not to a long-time Celtic, who has witnessed greatness across 10 NBA championships (eight as a player, two as a coach). Heinsohn understandably might set a high bar for that particular adjective.
Nor is Horford strictly great as defined by a source with absolutely no game, Noah Webster. Great is defined as, “remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent. . .of outstanding importance or significance.” Which means we shouldn’t throw that word around casually.
And, yet, “great” may be the most overused descriptor in sports. It has been applied to every catch in which an outfielder leaves his feet, every running back who does his job and breaks a tackle, every break-away dunk until its meaning has become as watered down as a Happy Hour Margarita.
Horford’s contribution to the Hawks is not readily quantified – nobody on this team has played longer, with more determination than he – but some numbers are worth noting here. He does not lead his team in rebounds or blocks (Paul Millsap does). He is the third leading scorer, 50th in the NBA this season, who on occasion – like the first game of the Celtics series – can dominate offensively.
He is my favorite Hawks player.
Horford is a terrific player.
But don’t be offended if someone comes out and says he doesn’t rise to the level of great. Just being really, really good should be enough to get the Hawks past the Celtics. That next round vs. Cleveland, well, that could be a little dicey.
Heinsohn, a Hall of Famer as both a player and a coach, has earned an opinion. Horford has said as much (he’s really, really level-headed, too). All that and Heinsohn has been a distinct broadcast voice as a network and regional broadcaster for close to four decades. But not a great one, mind you.