A reliable, starting-caliber center was a big missing piece on a team that needed to surround its young core (second-year players Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, third-year player John Collins, rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter) with more talent. In Capela, 25, it seems the Hawks brought that home.
“We feel we hit it right with our young core,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “Kevin’s a really good player, Trae’s a really good player, De’Andre and Cam are really good players, John’s a really good player. How do we help, and surround them, and how do we continue to grow them? Part of the moves of adding a guy like Clint Capela is you’re surrounding the young core with veteran talent, and we’re still going to grow and develop our young core. And that’s what’s most important.”
There’s a little bit of a hangup. Capela will not join the Hawks in Boston, and it’s possible he may not suit up until after the All-Star break as he takes time to heal from a nagging right heel injury (Pierce mentioned he didn’t want to rush Capela back before he was ready, and pointed out they have only four games left to play until the break).
Provided Capela heals up from that injury, he figures to give the Hawks (14-38), who only recently leapfrogged the Cavaliers (13-39) to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement, quite the boost. In 39 games played with the Rockets this season, Capela (6-foot-10, 240 pounds) averaged 13.9 points, 13.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 32.8 minutes.
The Hawks have consistently been one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA this season, so adding a physical center such as Capela can provide more of an anchor on that end of the floor. He should especially aid when it comes to defensive rebounding (they rank 24th in the league with 33.3 per game, having seen a slight uptick in that category since the return of Collins), but Pierce was clear the rest of the team can’t relax and rely on that.
“I think he provides some rim protection. … He’s a really good rebounder, which is a big part of your defense, finishing plays with the defensive rebound and not give up those second-chance opportunities,” Pierce said. “But it’s still, as good as he may be, or wherever he may be able to help us, those other guys, you can’t say ‘Oh, we’ve got a guy back there,’ now I’m good.”
Time will tell, but on offense, it seems Capela could fit in well in the Hawks’ pick-and-roll heavy scheme, especially when paired with Young.
“He’s a pick-and-roll big, and we’re a pick-and-roll team. … We have a young core that we’re excited about, and it’s starts with Trae, because he’s kind of the head of the snake, and he’s a pick-and-roll point guard,” Pierce said of Capela and Young, who ranks second in the NBA in assists (nine per game). “He likes bigs that can get behind the defense and put pressure on the rim.”
Having Capela will allow Collins to play less small-ball center and more of his natural position at power forward, which adds size and should help the team's defense. But combining two players who excel at setting screens and rolling to the rim may not be a recipe for success for the Hawks' offense — Collins has been aiming to become more versatile and develop his jumper and 3-point shot, which could become even more important with the addition of Capela (as of Thursday, Collins is shooting 35.8% from 3-point range, taking an average of 3.7 3's per game), so the two don't clash.
Again, time will tell, but Pierce isn’t complaining about having both players as options.
“Teams that are going to switch, we can find value in putting him down in the post,” Pierce said. “Teams that want to step up and blitz Trae, we’ve got two bigs that can roll to the rim. There’s ways of playing them together, and then there’s advantages of playing them separately as well. Each game and every game is different. You’re going to play the Lakers, and they’re big, you need both of them. You’re going to play Brooklyn, and they’re small, you’ve got to separate them.”
Collins, for his part, is excited about the addition of Capela, even if adjustments have to be made moving forward.
“I feel like he comes in and he plays our brand of basketball,” Collins said. “And I feel like he can come in and sort of fit in like a puzzle piece. Obviously there’s a lot of kinks and stuff we have to work out when he gets here, but I feel like overall, it’ll be a huge gain for us.”