Atlanta’s Horford Joins the Trend as a Stretch Big

BOSTON – Al Horford drained two straight 3-pointers from the top of the arc, closing out his shootaround on a high note Friday morning at TD Garden.

Prior to this season, he had only made that shot, from that spot, once during his eight regular seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. The 6-foot-10 center had never been a threat on the perimeter, but that is no longer the case.

The three-time All-Star has gone 12-of-36 from 3-point land during 10 games this season for the 8-2 Hawks. During his last outing against New Orleans, he surpassed his previous high of 11 3s made in a season, which he set last year.

Horford went 4-of-6 from deep during that game; that’s more than he made during his first five NBA seasons combined.

So, what exactly pushed the 29-year-old to finally form a 3-point shot this late in his career?

As he explained following shootaround, he simply wanted to get with the times and add to the trend of 3-point-shooting bigs.

“Just seeing the progression, the evolution of the NBA game, I feel like you have a lot of big men shooting 3s,” said Horford, who is averaging 17.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game this season. “And just being able to improve something in my game. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in, in always trying to add something to my game, and it’s something that I worked on and I feel good about.”

Acting head coach Kenny Atkinson – who is filling in for reigning NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer, who had to fly home this morning due to a family emergency – is feeling good about it as well. He believes it will cause opposing teams to go into fits when scouting Horford.

“He can roll to the rim and obviously he’s a heck of a finisher, and now he’s popping,” said Atkinson. "I know when we have to scout teams with guys like that, the Ryan Andersons of the world, it’s hard on the defense. I think if I’m scouting the Hawks now, I’m like ‘Man, what’s Horford going to do? Is he going to roll, is he going to pop?’”

Fellow Atlanta big man Paul Millsap says it transforms the way the Hawks’ offense runs, and changes the way teams defend them.

“It gives us a lot more spacing,” said Millsap, a two-time All-Star forward. “He’s able to pull out the 7-footers, make them guard him out there, so it’s a lot of spacing, a lot of driving lanes for the guards. It opens up the court a lot.”

Millsap is also a 3-point threat in Atlanta’s frontcourt. He’s made 14-of-39 treys, giving him and Horford a combined 26 makes from deep. That’s four more 3s than the total of Atlanta’s starting backcourt of renowned sharpshooter Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague.

“It’s the new way of the NBA,” Teague remarked on Horford and Millsap’s prowess from deep. “Stretch 4s and 5s making 3s, and those two are really special at it.”

Teague is also a solid 3-point threat, as is starting small forward Kent Bazemore, who is leading the team with 16 3-point makes.

Now, with Horford adding to the mix on the perimeter, Atlanta is a very unpredictable team to guard.

Before this season, Horford really only felt comfortable shooting 3s from the corners, where 20 of his 21 career long range makes had occurred. That means he had only made one deep ball from above the break in his career.

This season, he’s made 1-of-9 from the corners and 11-of-27 from above the break.

Horford says his inspiration to expand his range came from former teammate Pero Antic, a big man with soft touch who played for the Hawks during the last two seasons.

“He was a guy that was here that was shooting from all over the place,” said Horford. “I was like you know what, if I can work on that… I feel good about my shot, I feel like I can add that to my game. So partly because of him I made sure that I was able to work on it.”

Horford will be going up against another big man tonight who has been shooting the lights out from deep.

Jared Sullinger has shot 8-of-16 from long range over his last five games for the Celtics.

Horford said going up against Boston’s bruiser “is going to be a challenge for our bigs. He does a good job, he gets there quick. He’s been shooting them for a while and he can make ‘em.”

However, Horford says there will be a lot more than Sullinger on his mind when taking on the C’s tonight.

“They look like a much more confident group, they’ve made a lot of improvements, they have a lot of weapons,” he said. “All their guys, especially their bigs, they shoot 3s well, they score inside, they kind of do it all.”

Those Boston bigs will have to continue to do it all tonight if they hope to knock off the winningest team in the East. They’ll also have to be cognizant of guarding the perimeter, because this Hawks team now has 3-point threats at all five starting positions.

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