Clint Capela ready to give young Hawks a defensive voice

The Hawks are part of a four-team trade that will result in their acquisition of Rockets center Clint Capela, according to a report.

The Hawks are part of a four-team trade that will result in their acquisition of Rockets center Clint Capela, according to a report.

When he was still playing for the veteran-heavy Rockets, 25-year-old Clint Capela felt much younger than his actual age and experience level.

In his sixth NBA season, Capela joins Atlanta’s exceptionally young core of 20-year-old Cam Reddish, 21-year olds Trae Young and Kevin Huerter and 22-year-olds De’Andre Hunter and John Collins. It’s quite the different vibe for the newly acquired center.

“It’s a young group, young coach, too,” Capela said, referencing 43-year-old Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce. “They’re all trying to grow together, young players, young core. They’re all trying to learn out here, I can see, and there’s definitely a huge difference between this roster and the Houston roster, which was way older. I felt more like a rookie in my sixth year there. Here, I really feel like a vet.”

The Hawks acquired Capela in a four-team deal two days before the trade deadline, parting with Evan Turner, a conditional future first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick.

Capela was introduced to the media Sunday before facing the Knicks at State Farm Arena. He is rehabbing from a right heel/foot injury which the team has officially listed as "right calcaneus contusion/plantar fasciitis" and is unable to play. He said he hopes to return to action after the All-Star break, but there's no specific date for his debut yet. The Hawks' first game after the break is a home game Feb. 20 against the Miami Heat.

Once he’s back, Capela aims to use his experience to bolster the Hawks, whose lack of a go-to, starting-caliber center was glaring — both offensively and defensively. In his five-plus seasons with the Rockets, Capela got experience in the postseason each year, averaging a near double-double in last year’s playoffs (9.8 points, 10.3 rebounds), with Houston falling to Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals.

Now on a much younger team that’s still in the rebuilding stages, Capela wants to put that background to good use.

“Definitely my experience, what I’ve been through with Houston these past six years,” Capela said. “Definitely be more willing to communicate, more than whenever I was in Houston. Talk more, especially because this young group, they haven’t really been on the court that much. They haven’t had as much experience as I did. So I’m going to be able to communicate more and it’s going to be different.”

It was a strategy, general manager Travis Schlenk said Sunday, to bring in more experienced players at the deadline. The Hawks added a lot of size and experience in Capela (6-foot-10, 240), center Dewayne Dedmon (7-0, 245), who is in his seventh season, and former Portland forward/center Skal Labissiere (6-10, 235) in his fourth season.

“We feel like he’s going to be a really good fit for us,” Schlenk said of Capela. “One of the things I said — kind of repeatedly — going into the deadline was we were looking to add to our young core but maybe not 20-year-olds. Clint, at 25, is an old man. So we think that he’s going to continue to grow with our young group in the future.”

With the Rockets, Capela was averaging 13.9 points and a career-best 13.8 rebounds this season. A defensive anchor and rebounding reinforcement can’t come soon enough for the Hawks, who are 24th in the league in total rebounds per game (43), 27th in defensive rating (113.5) and 28th in opponents’ second-chance points (14.4).

More than any particular stat, though, Pierce also has lamented the Hawks not talking enough on defense, another issue Capela wants to tackle.

“Communication, my voice on defense,” Capela said. “Length at the rim, defensively, I think it’s definitely something that I’m good at that I’m going to be able to add to this team.”