Hawks continue to lean on Clint Capela as defensive anchor

The Hawks have seen some improvement on defense since the start of the season. The Hawks rank 12th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, showing that the team is trending in the right direction.

One reason the Hawks have seen improvement has been because of guard Dejounte Murray. But another reason the Hawks have been successful is the relentlessness of big man Clint Capela.

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Capela, 28, has had some tough competition during the last five games or so. He’s had to go up against Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Sixers center Joel Embiid twice in the last four weeks.

In that span, he’s averaged double-digit points and rebounds with 13.5 points and 12.9 rebounds in the last 11 games. He’s had double-doubles in five of the last six games and has averaged 1.5 blocks per game since the season began.

He is ranked third in the NBA in rebounding behind the Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert and Antetokounmpo and ranks 12th in the league in blocks per game.

Capela has often been the last line of defense for the Hawks a number of times this season. It prompted Hawks coach Nate McMillan to call Capela the team’s defensive anchor.

“He’s been doing that,” McMillan said Sunday. “And he’s probably one of our best defenders out there on anybody. As you just mentioned, he switched last night on some of the guards. He was on (Scottie) Barnes. You’ve seen (him) against Giannis. You’ve seen him against Embiid. So he can do it.

“And we are encouraging him to make that read. And we’re OK with him switching; I’m OK with him switching on a ballhandler. Normally in the last minute or under a minute, when we are just completely switching everything. He is out on the floor. And I trust him guarding on the perimeter. Probably just as much as anyone on the team.”

With Capela venturing to the perimeter to help his teammates, the team sometimes misses crucial rebounds. But Capela, whose goal is to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award at the end of the season, has made sure that he communicates with his teammates.

“My goal is to be a Defensive Player of the Year,” Capela said. “So it comes with it, that every night that this is my mindset. It’s about defense, be the anchor, talk, tell the guys who I want them to match up with. Some nights I changed to match up on the go. And I took that as a responsibility. So, it comes with it when I get in the game, we switch everything, and I call myself on guards, and I take that challenge to be up there against the guard and try to make the play and get that stop.”

Injury note

Hawks wing Bogdan Bogdanovic participated in what appeared to be some three-on-three work with Hawks player development staff, as well as Frank Kaminsky and Vit Krejci. The Hawks have not provided a definitive timeline on when Bogdanovic will return to the rotation, but the 30-year-old wing had mostly been relegated to shooting and light drills.

After Sunday’s practice, Bogdanovic worked on cutting, defending and knocking down shots off the dribble as he continues to go through his rehab from offseason knee surgery.