Atlanta Hawks centre Clint Capela is specialised. He’s exceptional at what he does, but that specialisation limits what you can do with the rest of the team.
There are stretch fives (Brook Lopez) and there are pick-and-roll fives (Capela). There are a few who teams run the offence through like Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic, but the majority of centres in the NBA in 2020 fall into the first two categories. These out-and-out centres are less switchier than their smallball counterparts, but they should – in theory, at least – bring rim protection that others don’t (both Lopez and Capela rack up the blocks).
Capela isn’t the most or least mobile five in the league. He’s a basket-to-basket player, guarding the paint on the defensive end, setting screens and chasing lobs on the offensive end. He’s also an elite offensive rebounder, ranking up with Andre Drummond and Rudy Gobert in that category.
As a non-shooter (he has two three-point attempts in his career), Capela restricts the players a team can place around him. The four needs to have some range. The guards need to be willing perimeter shooters and pick-and-roll ball handlers. Capela’s partnership with Chris Paul and James Harden saw him get paid, and luckily he’s alongside another ideal pick-and-roll mate in Trae Young now.
The arrival of Capela shifted John Collins to the four permanently, and even saw him crop up in the odd trade rumour. Collins is a developing three-point shooter, letting rip 3.6 times per game, up from 2.6 last year and 0.6 in his rookie season. Hitting them at 40% doesn’t guarantee a smooth offensive fit, but it gives hope they can work together in the frontcourt with Young, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter getting the majority of perimeter minutes.
Links with Drummond were a surprise, and trading for Capela wasn’t an obvious move for the Hawks. Dewayne Dedmon and Capela bring size and should help one of the worst defensive teams in history, but it means the end of Collins at the five as a first choice line-up.
Centre is the most varied position in the NBA. It is a mercenary spot for some front offices – for others, it’s the home of their superstar. It’s neither for Atlanta. Capela’s contract puts him someone between elite big-name and journeyman.
His game will not fit against every opponent, and his health is a lingering concern. As with Harden and Paul, though, he’s in the best place he could be to succeed and play an important role on a Hawks team that should have a bright future with Young at the helm.