Clint Capela’s significance in the Atlanta Hawks’ turnaround

OKC Thunder center Moses Brown defends Clint Capela (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder center Moses Brown defends Clint Capela (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Clint Capela has been an extremely valuable part of the Atlanta Hawks’ success this season.

When Atlanta Hawks general manager Travis Schlenke signed Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Rajon Rondo, and Solomon Hill last offseason, the message was clear: get Trae Young wing shooters that can stand on the perimeter and shoot, and get secondary ball-handlers who can run the offense when Young is on the bench.

While Bogdanovic has clearly been the best player out of this group, shooting career-high splits of 47/43/90 on 57% TS, the best addition that Schlenke has made to this group actually came in the form of a mid-season trade last year.

As part of a four-team trade with the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Denver Nuggets, the Hawks acquired Clint Capela, who has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving down south.

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Finally free from his Achilles injury that plagued his 2019-20 season, Capela has responded by averaging 15 points, an NBA-leading 14 rebounds-per-game, a career-high two blocks per game, and doing this all on a career-high 57.2% TS.

Clint Capela has been an ideal fit next to Trae Young for the Atlanta Hawks

Capela’s ability as a screener, combined with the lethal pick-and-roll game with Young, has been two equally important parts of impacting the Hawks’ turnaround.

The impact of adding Capela to pair with Young has been a huge part of the reason that the Hawks have gone from being a 20-win team last season, to being just two wins away from a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

One of Capela’s best games this season came during a double-overtime victory against the San Antonio Spurs on April 1. Looking past the gaudy stat line of 28 points and 17 rebounds, Capela and Young’s pick-and-roll game literally destroyed the Spurs on nearly every single possession.

Outside of his effectiveness as a screener, the Spurs were so afraid of Young alley-ooping a pass to Capela that they allowed Young to get 12 opportunities for shots in the paint/lane area.

Even though Young struggled a bit, finishing just 5/12 on shots around the paint, allowing Young, who shot 46% on 252 floaters (no other player shot more than 200 floaters this season) this regular season versus 43% league average to get 12 opportunities to fire off his favorite shot attempt is a recipe for disaster (Young shoots his floater on 36% of all of his two-point attempts).

The threat of Capela as a lob threat and as an offensive rebounder (NBA teams had a 30% offensive rebounding percentage on floaters this season, and Capela averages 8.7 offensive rebound chances per game, the second-most among starting centers in the NBA this season after Enes Kanter) has been extremely beneficial to helping Young get to his favorites spots and has been extremely important in helping the Hawks win games more importantly.

Getting back to him as a screener, Capela averaged five screen assists per game during the regular season this year, tied for fifth amongst all players who played at least 1800 minutes.

Capela also averaged 11 screen assist points per game, good for seventh amongst players who played at least 1800 minutes.

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While this Hawks roster still has glaring weaknesses, primarily in the form of secondary ball handlers and wing defenders, they have set themselves up nicely for the considerable future with their lethal pairing of Young and Capela.