Our 2021-22 player review series continues with a look at center Clint Capela.
Off the heels of a strong 2020-21 campaign, Clint Capela and the Atlanta Hawks agreed to a two year extension which expires at the end of the 2024-25 season, signalling a commitment from both parties.
Such an agreement wouldn’t have been reached if the Hawks weren’t satisfied with what Capela had brought to the fold in his first full season with the Atlanta Hawks. Something I always personally believed is that the Hawks could live without Trae Young for a short period of time because they had enough offensively to win games — and they did, as Bogdan Bogdanovic showed in that campaign he could shoulder the scoring load and still win games. But I always believed that if the Hawks were without a healthy Capela it would be more detrimental than if Young was missing for a short period of time because no one could anchor the defense in the way Capela could.
This was the story to start the season for the Hawks as Capela entered the 2021-22 campaign with lingering Achilles soreness and it was clear to see he wasn’t right throughout the first half of the season. The early season on/off numbers told a story that the Hawks were better defensively with Capela off of the floor than he was on the floor and that’s just not the Capela the Hawks know on the defensive end.
On the offensive end, watching the games this season, it felt like Capela’s overall involvement was down from last year and his usage actually did drop from 19.3% to 14.9% in the 2021-22 season. Part of this is how teams have stepped up their defensive schemes guarding Trae Young and it felt — given all the switching off of screens the Hawks and Young faced — that the Hawks didn’t run as much pick-and-roll involving Capela.
There was some chatter amongst the fandom during the season that the Hawks should replace Capela as their starting center for Onyeka Okongwu. While Okongwu was excelling at the time (this did eventually cool off) and Capela clearly not 100%, this conversation was always one made in vain: the Hawks are, at this moment, better with Capela as their starting center, and after a game against the Timberwolves where Okongwu played well as Capela sat with an ankle injury, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan reaffirmed who the team’s starting center would be.
“Clint is our starter,” McMillan affirmed. “Onyeka, I think he makes us stronger. Do we have to go there right away? We’ll see but he’s done some good things, his play will challenge Clint to get out there and play because Clint is seeing what this young guy is doing and he can come in and play. Clint is our starting 5. We’ll see when Clint comes back how we work him back into the lineup.”
“Clint is the back-line of our defense and he’s always talking, I think that’s the next step for O is being more communicative,” added Young.
I’m sure there’ll be a time to talk about Okongwu coming into the starting lineup but this season wasn’t going to be the one. Capela is still the Hawks’ best option at starting center despite a bit of a down season.
Despite not being 100% healthy for a large part of the first half of the season, Capela played 74 games and averaged 11.1 points per game on 61% shooting from the field, 47.3% from the line on 2.3 attempts, 11.9 rebounds, 3.8 offensive rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks in 27 minutes a game.
Compare that to Capela’s stats from last season — as well as his advanced/scoring/usage etc. stats/percentages — and you’ll see that Capela’s numbers and percentages this season were down across the board and that really was reflective from the point of view that it wasn’t until the new year that Capela looked healthy and just looking like Clint Capela again — looking like the Hawks’ second/third most important player on the court. There’s going to be pushback on that notion but he got back there Capela looked really solid for a large chunk of the second half of the season.
And the Hawks with Capela looked a lot different defensively this year because himself and John Collins only played 46 games together this season, playing less than 1,000 minutes together and still a plus-minus 103 in two man lineups.
Capela looked very solid as the Hawks fought for the seeding to end the season and through the play-in tournament to make the playoffs but suffered a hyperextended knee during the victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and missed some time during the Miami series, was extremely limited in his short time on the court, and when he returned it was clear his season was going to end exactly as it started: not healthy, he just wasn’t obviously right — as you would expect — with that knee injury.
While Capela wasn’t 100% healthy to end the season, he is set on beginning next season healthy and he maintains that the biggest key for both himself, and the Hawks as a whole, ahead of next season is enter the new season healthy, something Capela — among others — were not able to do this season.
“Definitely have the time to come back earlier because I think it all starts from day one,” said Capela on taking the steps for next season to avoid the Hawks’ seeding situation this season. “We’re going to have time to come back earlier. We won’t start training camp with that many guys out, which was like five or six main guys, to prepare ourselves to start with our main guys; it all starts from day one. This is when it really starts. If we can all be back at that time in shape and healthy it’s already better than this year.”
“I know for myself it’s based on conditioning, running,” added Capela on a healthier off-season. “I knew that it was going to be a hard one when I started this season — training camp, not being able to function, to run and to work on my conditioning. From my part it’s really important to come back healthy, ready to go. Especially for my game conditioning-wise to be able to grind and guard everyone on the court, it’s a major part.”
All-in-all, this was a bit of a down year for Capela compared to the 2020-21 campaign but with the caveat that he wasn’t healthy for a large part of it, despite playing a large part of it.
I have no reason to doubt that Capela can get back to form similar to the 2020-21 season, in large part because he was very much on that track towards the end of the season.
If Capela can see through his hopes for a healthy off-season, both he and the Hawks will be in a better place than the start of last season, giving them a chance to right the wrongs from this season.