Hello and welcome back to Connor’s Corner, a column where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. Following yet another exciting week of NBA action, one player has been on an underappreciated hot streak and, in that span, showed that his squad is here to stay. That player is none other than Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela.
While Capela’s two-game stretch won’t be etched into the record books, his contributions can’t be understated. On Saturday night, Atlanta hosted the Indiana Pacers, who are on the outside looking in at the final play-in spot. While this was not a game many had circled on their calendars in anticipation, the playoff implications were massive. In this contest, the seven-foot giant proved to be an enforcer, grabbing 17 boards and shooting a perfect five-of-five from the field, giving him 17 for the night. Capela had 12 defensive rebounds, a positive sign for Hawk fans as the Swiss native put any opportunities for second-chance points to bed. Atlanta cruised to a 143-130 win. After the Hawks’ electrifying win Saturday night, they returned to State Farm Arena on Sunday night to face the Memphis Grizzlies. Unfortunately for Capela and his team, they lost this contest 123-119. Despite the defeat, Capela fought to the end with 18 points and 16 boards.
While critics will call his performance this past weekend ordinary, the circumstances he had to overcome to get to the NBA were nothing short of extraordinary. The Hawk center was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 18, 1994, and just a few months after his birth, his father abandoned the family, leaving his mother and three children on their own. Capela’s mother had no choice but to send her sons to a group home where the children got more support. Capela described it as “It was almost kind of a prison. Usually, when you go in that house, you’re not going back home the year after. It was so important to me: Go to bed with my family, go to school like everybody. That was my dream.” When Capela was 13, he did return to his family; however, this was short-lived as he showed great athleticism and attended INSEP, a boarding school in France known for sending athletes to the Olympics. Capela’s stardom rose in France, which earned him a roster spot on the Swiss national team, where he quickly became a top NBA prospect and the Houston Rockets took him 25th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Another thing that sets Capela apart from the rest is his unmatched character. The first thing he did with his NBA paycheck was pay off his mother’s debts, noting, “My mum means everything, she went through so much. When she put us into foster care, it was really tough for her. She was taking care of all of us by herself, working seven days a week. She was always so busy. Today I realize all she had to do to help give us the best life possible. She had taxes to pay for 20 years, so I took care of it. Taxes from insurance, home and social help,It just made me so proud to tell my mum that she didn’t need to work anymore.”
Before the future All-Star laced up for his first game as a Rocket, he had already established a rocky relationship with then-starting center Dwight Howard. Howard didn’t take kindly to his newly diminished role, which caused him to leave in free agency. Despite this, Houston was better off without him; they had a net rating of plus 3.1 per 100 possessions with Capela compared to 0.2 with Howard. While Capela seems to be doing everything right, he has his kryptonite: free throws. Capela struggled from the charity stripe, missing his first 15 attempts as a rookie, and finishing 17.4% from the stripe. Despite his struggles, Capela improved massively from his rookie year, owning a 59.8% clip from the charity stripe this season and a career percentage of 53.2.
One aspect of Capela’s game that sets him apart from other centers is his play style. Capela has never averaged more than 16 PPG, and this season averages 12 PPG. You won’t see him lighting up the scoreboard, but you will see him do what he does best: grabbing rebounds. If you aren’t a believer in Capela’s ability to play big minutes in the association, the 28-year-old had a stretch from Nov. 9 to Dec. 3, 2019, with five consecutive games of 20 rebounds or more; he also added seven 20-rebound games in an eight-game span to his resume. Capella’s tenure in Houston ended due to the infamous “small ball” philosophy in Houston in 2020 that failed when they traded Capela to the Hawks in a four-team deal where Houston didn’t have a player over 6-foot-6. This strategy didn’t pan out, as Houston failed to do anything in the playoffs and traded one of if not the most underrated players in the league for much below his value. The Rockets have yet to return to the playoffs since the aforementioned deal.
Atlanta has struggled all year and is in danger of missing out on the playoffs altogether. The Hawks have hope, however, as All-Star Trae Young is in the midst of yet another year to remember, and Capela is changing what it means to be a center in today’s league while putting his team in a position to win on any given day. Unfortunately for Hawks fans, Atlanta will likely miss out on the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy this season, as they seem to be in a rebuilding year. Despite this, the future is bright with a young core, and if the Hawks ever make it to the Finals, Capela will play a substantial role in the offense.