It’s easier to hide in the win but the Atlanta Hawks clearly miss starting center Clint Capela. It is not a slight to say that having Onyeka Okongwu fill in is not the same, nor should it be from a roster-building standpoint. The issue is what Capela brings is so vital to what the Hawks want to do while his absence also pulls Okongwu off the second unit.
The Hawks have had to battle through injuries for yet another season after having their full complement of players for just one game.
Capela has missed the last seven games in a row and 11 of the Hawks’ last 13 contests dealing with a strained calf. Atlanta has gone 4-7 in those games and is 4-9 without the big man this season.
Head coach Nate McMillan didn’t mince words when discussing the 2020 rebounding champion.
Nate McMillan gets honest about what the Atlanta Hawks miss without Clint Capela
“We need to get our big guy back,” McMillan said after the game. “We’ve been getting pounded on the boards. We’re small when we have Onyeaka and John [Collins] in there. And we need for all of our guys to get in there and help rebound the ball. Tonight we got a break at the end. We made the plays we got the rebounds when we needed to those last couple possessions.”
Capela was averaging 14.1 points and 13.1 rebounds in the seven games before going down.
The Hawks are 15-12 with Capela in the lineup and his impact can be seen in many statistical areas. Capela is third in the league in rebounding while the Hawks have gone from 17th to 22nd in second-chance points since he initially suffered the injury.
Interestingly, they have remained at 10th in points scored in the paint both with and without Capela on the floor.
They are also allowing 1.6 more points in the paint in that span.
The other aspect is Capela’s leadership as one of the older players on a young team, a trait he showed after the Hawks rallied back to beat the Detroit Pistons
“I really feel that we can be that good,” Capela told Hawks sideline reporter Annie Finberg. “Defensively we can step up, we can score. So we just have to find a way to stay consistent with it. But this is what it is about.”
Capela has not played since then despite saying that he felt “good” in the immediate aftermath.
Injuries have limited the Hawks’ preferred starting five to just 19 games together this season. They have been rather formidable when they have all been healthy at the same time, though, providing another reason for optimism assuming they can get everyone back on the floor and keep them there.
That has been problematic for the last two years and, in the NBA, figures to always play a significant role in the outcome for every team every season.
What the Hawks need is even better depth behind a healthy Capela and Okongwu. Until then, they will have to continue trying to find different solutions to a big problem.