The Atlanta Hawks traded for Clint Capela during the 2019-20 season, giving up just a mid first-round pick to acquire the big man from the Houston Rockets. Capela was injured at the time, never appearing during that COVID-shortened season. Heading into 2020-21, Capela was going to be the starting center, but the Hawks also had the No. 6 pick in the 2020 draft at his position as well, Onyeka Okongwu.
There wasn’t any controversy so to speak about who should play, as everyone fully expected Capela to start. But the feeling of how he would look was mostly filled with uncertainty after he played just 39 games with the Rockets in 2019-20. Capela answered those questions by posting one of the best seasons of his career, leading the NBA in rebound rate and rebounds per game for the 2020-21 season while anchoring a Hawks defense that was among the worst in the NBA in the previous seasons without him. Capela’s net rating of +6.6 was powered by the Hawks’ 108 DRtg when he was on the floor.
The veteran big quarterbacked Atlanta’s defensive attack, holding his teammates accountable in a way they hadn’t been in previous seasons as a young team searching for its identity in the league. He developed a solid pick-and-roll relationship with Trae Young, and made things work with John Collins on both ends, which was a huge question entering the season as Collins had been the primary roll man in the past.
Heading into 2021-22, the Hawks would be lucky to say the least to get a repeat of the 2020-21 campaign from Capela. He was incredibly durable, playing 81 total games counting the postseason. The absence on Okongwu for the first 2-3 months of the season amplifies the need for Capela to be durable this season, as the Hawks don’t have a ton at center behind newly acquired Gorgui Dieng, who is set to take on the minutes left vacant by the Okongwu injury. Collins can play center too obviously, but ideally Capela, who signed a two-year, $46 million extension this offseason, will be able to man big minutes at center again this season.
The depth Atlanta will have upon the return of Okongwu will also ideally allow the Hawks to manage Capela if needed down the stretch of the season, as the 27-year old received a PRP injection in his Achilles this offseason after playing through Achilles soreness last season. If all things go well, the Hawks will be able to get the most out of Capela and the other bigs by not putting too much of a load on any one player. If there’s any complaint about last season at center, it is probably that Okongwu and Bruno Fernando did not do enough in the backup minutes, particularly early last season. Okongwu improved over the course of the season and had a solid postseason in small role, but overall he wasn’t very impactful as a rookie in the regular season.
With the addition of Dieng and Okongwu ideally being more servicable as a second-year player, Capela should have a lighter load overall this season. The addition of Jalen Johnson may also push Collins to center a little more in the event Johnson proves he’s ready to contribute at some point this season. There are several avenues on this roster to not overloading Capela, which would really be the only concern with a veteran player who has been as consistent as Capela over the past few seasons.