February 5, 2020, 2:00 am
It was no secret that the Hawks were in the market for an upgrade at the center position. After being connected to Andre Drummond and Steven Adams in recent weeks, Atlanta pulled the trigger on acquiring Clint Capela as part of Tuesday’s four-team, 12-player trade.
The Hawks have suffered from poor center play this season, failing to gain much traction after last season’s promising finish as they’ve stumbled into the worst record in the league. While Bruno Fernando remains a promising long-term prospect, the combination of Alex Len and Damian Jones was never going to cut it. Even with the Hawks lottery-bound, there is value in giving Trae Young and John Collins reps with players who are actual fits — and long-term fits at that.
After Drummond negotiations fizzled out, it was widely expected that the Hawks would wait until the offseason and sell free agents on a long-term future with Young and Collins, not to mention Atlanta’s swaths of cap space. That’s no longer a need, with Capela in the second year of a five-year, $90 million pact. Signed through the 2022-23 season, the Hawks now have some semblance of a Big 3.
Getting a legitimate lob threat and rim-runner is a big deal in Atlanta. Young is already posting All-Star numbers with his current ragtag center rotation, and he’s in the 83rd percentile in terms of points per possession (0.97) as the ball-handler in pick and rolls. At 15.2 possessions per game as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Young runs the play more often than anyone else and ranks third by frequency at 52.5% (trailing DJ Augustin and Derrick Rose).
Adding someone of Capela’s caliber, who should be accustomed to the narrowest offensive lane in the league after honing his craft with James Harden and Chris Paul, could help Young get to the next level.
It may have a more adverse effect on Collins. Though the Hawks prefer to deploy him as a power forward, lineups with Collins next to traditional centers have been woeful this season, and pushing him away from the rim might not do wonders for his offensive game. We’ll dive into that a bit more later in the week but for now, there’s still plenty enough to think that Collins can expand his game, rather than be shaken by a changing diet of shots.
Capela also offers better rim protection than any current Hawk and his deterrence should help one of the league’s very worst defenses.
He’ll also be a big lift on the glass, where the Hawks are 27th in rebounding rate at 48.4%. Capela is currently posting an individual rebounding rate of 19.1% this season, and his career-worst number of 16.1% is still better than any member of the Hawks is posting this season – John Collins leads the group at 15.3%.
Houston may have been willing to part with Capela because of his playoff performances, or lack thereof. He had difficulties staying on the floor in some of Houston’s more ruthless playoff matchups, and those problems don’t figure to go away as he ages. Even so, that’s a long-term issue that the Hawks will worry about when the time comes. Capela’s stability now is worth whatever decline he shows in the future.
As for what they surrendered, Atlanta traded Evan Turner, who was out of the rotation, and a first-round pick (via the Nets) to Minnesota. They also received Nene in the deal, though his inclusion is purely to make the numbers work out. He has yet to suit up this season.
In terms of real value for Atlanta, the deal boils down to Capela for Brooklyn’s first-round pick in the upcoming draft (assuming the Nets make the playoffs). The Hawks still hold their own pick this season, which will land in the lottery.
Given Capela’s fit with the current core group and the likelihood that any free agent center of his caliber would likely cost more in the summer, the Hawks decided to strike. It can be quibbled that Atlanta could’ve acquired a cheaper center that provides more pure value, but Capela should be worth the risk considering what was sent the other direction.
Armed with a player at a key position who can be the perfect complement to Young while also lifting the team’s defense, the Hawks should be happy to have helped grease the wheels of Houston’s Robert Covington chase.