Posted Nov 19 2009 1:41PM
If rebounding is about desire, Al Horford is proof of it.
Last season, the Hawks ranked near the bottom of the league in rebounds per game (40 a game, 23rd in the league) despite boasting a front line that featured Horford (6-foot-10), Josh Smith (6-foot-9), Zaza Pachulia (6-foot-11) and Solomon Jones (6-foot-10). Though Jones left in the offseason for Indiana (and a few other bit players are gone, too), the Hawks return mostly the same frontcourt group.
This season, the Hawks are 11th in the league in rebounding and have outrebounded their opponents in nine of their 12 games. Not surprisingly, Atlanta is now among the East's elite and Horford is on pace for a career-best season in the rebound department. For the first time in his career, Horford ranks in the league's top 10 in rebounds per game (10.3 rpg) after finishing in the low teens his first two seasons.
Horford came to camp ready to lift the Hawks in the NBA's pecking order and has delivered with his play. He can count on one hand the number of games this season he's gone without a double-double. He's also shown a lot of maturity on defense and is averaging a career low in personal fouls (2.5 per game) while reaching a career high in blocks per game (1.9).
Coach Mike Woodson has been impressed by the consitent performance of Horford (and his frontcourt mate Smith), praising both as key components in Atlanta's big wins on the road.
"Everybody's making the extra effort, diving on the floor, going for loose balls," Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're doing all the little things."
G: Will Bynum, Pistons -- Detroit is hovering around the .500 mark despite injuries to Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince and showed it clearly is no longer among the NBA's elite with losses to Dallas and the Lakers last week. Still, I can't help watching Bynum every time he's on the court. The fearless guard has already flirted with a triple-double this season and is becoming a regular contender for NBA.com's Dunk of the Night video. Acrobatics aside, Bynum has taken the second-most free throws on the team, a true measure of his fearlessness.
G: Rudy Fernandez, Blazers -- Generally speaking, reigning members of the All-Rookie Team are prime candidates for the Five on the Rise. Count Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Eric Gordon (when he was healthy) and Mario Chalmers among that group this season. Fernandez has struggled to in his way sophomore season and was mostly unproductive early in the season. With fellow swingman Travis Outlaw out indefinitely, Fernandez is emerging again in Portland. He played a season-high 32 minutes in last week's loss to Atlanta, which is a nice stat on its own, but consider these points: First, Fernandez hit the game-tying, buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to force OT and second, he played the entire overtime, too.
F: Drew Gooden, Mavericks -- With starter Erick Dampier out for last week's games against Detroit and Milwaukee, Gooden showed his value to the Mavs. Gooden has always had offensive talents and they showed in the two wins, as he averaged 16.5 points and 14.5 rebounds. But defense, where Gooden tends to lapse at times, was where he made a bigger impact in those wins. He did a good job of keeping track of Detroit's Charlie Villanueva (who was 6-for-16 with 10 rebounds) and Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut (who shot 6-for-12 from the field and had 6 rebounds). Dampier should return soon, but Gooden's little renaissance period will do nothing but boost his confidence in Dallas.
F: Carl Landry, Rockets -- Landry had written his name down for a spot in this week's Five on the Rise. That was until the Rockets fell apart at home against the Suns and spoiled his career-high 27-point night. Still, give Landry credit for his play last week overall: He put up 15 and 10 at Staples Center against the Lakers on Sunday, which was a nice follow-up to an abysmal three-point, two-rebound showing in a loss to the Kings. He's still working on that consistency aspect to his play, but we like the athleticism he gives Houston once starter Luis Scola goes to the bench.
C: Roy Hibbert, Pacers -- As always with big Roy, it's all about staying out of foul trouble. Lately, he's done a great job of avoiding the whistle and not surprisingly, that's helping Indiana get back in the picture. His 3.4 fouls per game average during the Pacers' win streak is a tick under his season average (3.75), but in the last four games, he's had four fouls or fewer. More impressive than that is Hibbert's 2.75 blocks per game average in that span. It's a great sign he's learning how to guard the basket without being reckless and an even better sign for Indiana's playoff hopes.
NBA.com's Five on the Rise are just one man's opinion and are released every Thursday during the season. If you've got an issue with the names on this list, or have a question or comment for Jeff Case, send him an e-mail
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