Pricing The Atlanta Hawks Without Al Horford
On December 27th, Al Horford was lost for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Horford is not a superstar, but is one of the best Centers in the NBA, and a fantasy point machine, scoring 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, one steal, and 1.5 blocks per game. Horford's loss will have a very large fantasy impact on Atlanta. Because of that impact, it is important to predict where that impact will be felt. Who will perform better in Horford's absence? Will Atlanta's defense get worse? How will team statistics be impacted? These will be some of the questions I will try to answer in this essay.
Minutes are one of the main drivers of fantasy points. Obviously, anytime someone is not playing in the game, they can not score fantasy points, so increasing the amount of time spent in the game creates opportunity for more points to be scored. We have two games of data to look at post Horford’s injury that gives us a pretty good idea of who has gotten minute increases in Horford’s absence.
Atlanta has a log jam of backup power forwards and centers. Pero Antic saw 21 minutes in the past two games, about 10 minutes above his season average. Elton Brand has started in Horford’s place but only saw the floor for an average of 16.5 minutes a game, only 5 minutes abvove his 11.8 minute average. Mike Scott has averaged about 20 minutes a game the past two, but it’s only 6 minutes above his season average, and since he is 6’8” he is really is not too viable of an option for Center duties. Coach Mike Budenholzer will not committ to keeping Brand as the starter, so if one of these players starts playing well it’s likely they will see a larger minutes increase. Scott and Antic have both played so so in the minutes they have played, but Antic is the one I’m rooting for. Scott is not a good option at center with his height and it’s unlikely Brand could play high minutes at 34 years old anyways. Antic is much more intriguing. He’s a 31 year old rookie who has played most of his career successfully in Europe. As he gets more acquainted with the NBA it’s plausible he could become a good fantasy option.
Paul Millsap has seen a big boost in stats since Horford’s been out and has become a must start player regardless of matchup. Fellow DFW author Sked has broken down Millsap’s production increase fantastically in this article.
Arguably the next biggest fantasy impact has been on Louis Williams. Williams has been injured for most of the year and has seen minute limitations. But those appear to be off now, as he’s seen 35 minutes a game in the past two, far above is 24 minute season average. It’s unclear how much of this minute increase has to do with Demarre Carroll’s thumb injury; Carroll missed last game in which Williams played 36 minutes, but was supplanted by Williams in the previous game where Williams got 34 minutes. It would make a lot of sense if Williams sustained these minute increases when Carroll comes back, as without Horford Atlanta could be in need of some extra offense, and Carroll is mostly a defensive role player. Regardless, Williams has averaged 23 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in his last two games and should be considered a very good fantasy option even when Carroll returns. Expect his assists numbers to go up towards his per 36 average of 4.8.
Statistically, Jeff Teague has not seen much fantasy impact yet. Teague is already having a career year with 17 points and 8 assists per game on 13.7 shot attempts. The past two games his numbers have stayed in line with that. I would expect Teague’s numbers to increase though. Horford was a shot creator and often made unassisted baskets. Without Horford a lot of new role players are going to rely on Teague to create shots for them and Teague will subsequently see increased assist totals. Teague also should be expected to take a few more shots a game to handle some of the shot creation load left in Horford’s absence.
Horford was an above average defender, averaging 1.5 blocks a game, as well as scoring favorably in advanced defensive statistics like defensive rating and defensive winshares. It’s plausible without Horford Atlanta’s defense will give up a lot more fantasy points, which will not be clear from previous data. With guys like Mike Scott and Elton Brand who are only 6’8” playing Center, it would make sense that big men will have an easier time against Atlanta’s defense.
The past two games that has certainly showed. Al Jefferson had a monster game, scoring 24 points and grabbing 23 rebounds in Atlanta’s first game without Horford. Against Orlando, Nikola Vucevic posted a solid 16 points and 14 rebounds along with 3 steals and a block.
I would definitely keep an open mind about Atlanta now being a very poor fantasy defense against big men. Those statistics won’t become clear for several games, but I would start targetting big men against Atlanta. The last two games have backed up statistically what logic about the size and skill of the Atlanta front court suggests.
Horford’s absence will have a large fantasy impact on both Atlanta as a matchup and the rest of the Hawks lineup. Millsap is going to be a must start in the next several weeks as his fantasy production is expected to sustain its uptick. Louis Williams is also a must start but may see his minutes decrease when Carroll returns. The Center situation is not that positive right now as Antic, Scott, and Brand are all sharing minutes. Scott and Antic are worth a start in GPPs because of the massive variance in their performance. A good performance is going to mean a lot of minutes and a large amount of fantasy production, but it’s likely that you will see very little fantasy production other nights. Because of the lack of size in Atlanta’s front court it’s likely they will become a good fantasy matchup for opposing big men.
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