The Atlanta Hawks got a new pick-and-roll partner for Trae Young by trading for Clint Capela but can the new acquisition mesh well with John Collins?
Now official, the four-team, 12-player trade between the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves is the biggest trade in the NBA since Patrick Ewing was shipped off to the Seattle Supersonics in 2000. Of all the moving parts involved, Clint Capela going from Houston to Atlanta is the big attention-grabber.
The Hawks have spent most of the season searching for the right-center to pair with Trae Young and their young core. However, finding a center who can anchor a defense, handle himself on the perimeter defensively, run the floor, play out of the pick-and-roll, and is the right age to fit in the same window as Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins, De’André Hunter and Cam Reddish isn’t the easiest of tasks.
In Capela, Travis Schlenk was able to get all of that for the discounted price of Evan Turner and a 2020 NBA Draft pick that will fall in the teens.
The 6-foot-10, 25-year-old made a name for himself as the pick-and-roll partner for James Harden when the Rockets first began their ascension to elite status. Their two-man game put defenses in a bind on every possession. No option was satisfactory.
Hedge the screen and that gave Capela a clear lane to roll through. Switch and then both Harden and Capela have mismatches to take advantage of. Go under the screen and you left Harden open for a 3-pointer. Go over it and Harden could get downhill and throw a lob to a waiting Capela.
Teams ended up simply double-teaming Harden to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible — Capela isn’t a great passer yet so he couldn’t make the most of the four-on-three advantages consistently.
Now swap out “Harden” for “Young” in the above passages and you get an idea of what headaches the Hawks are now going to give teams. It also is pretty similar to what they have already been doing offensively. Collins and Young quickly became one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the league in their first season together.
Young’s combination of deep shooting range, ball-handling acumen and passing skills has elevated him to premiere playmaker status. Collins is an impressively bouncy athlete with the coordination, agility and flexibility to finish lobs and dunks in the paint when the defense over helped on Young.
The offense really hummed when Collins was paired with a center that could space the floor and knock down 3-pointers at a respectable clip. Last year, Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len filled those rolls — and in an ironic twist, Atlanta just traded Len to Sacramento to bring Dedmon back — but Len has been inactive in 10 of the team’s last 12 games and neither Damian Jones or Bruno Fernando are threats beyond the arc yet.
This means that Capela and Collins will likely be sharing the court going forward. On paper, the two might seem redundant but there’s a good chance that the two figure out a way to coexist.
For starters, Collins displayed that he was in the process of developing a 3-point shot (34.8 percent on 2.6 attempts per game) last year, particularly from the corners. This season, he’s upped his attempts (3.7) and percentage (35.8) from the perimeter. If he can sustain this new addition to his game the fit becomes rather easy to envision.
Young and Capela would orchestrate their screen dance at the top of the key. Two shooters would slot on the wings and Collins would be positioned in the weak side corner where his defender would be tasked with either rotating to the rim to prevent the lob or sticking with Collins in the corner to prevent a 3-point attempt.
Capela’s been one of the best finishers at the rim the past few seasons. Most likely his rolls will suck in a lot of attention from opponents. Even if teams don’t believe Collins can continually hurt them on corner 3-pointers, he’s likely to register many “wide-open” shots in this scenario.
Another staple of Lloyd Pierce’s playbook has been a double-screen for Young at the top of the key. This setup is my guess to what we will see the two do most often when they are together on the court.
On these sets, one screener will dive to the hoop and the other will pop to the top of the key for a 3-point look. With Capela not showing much preference from shooting the deep ball, he will likely be the one who goes to the lane and Collins will be the one who relocates to the top of the key.
The real key here — outside of sets and philosophy — will be how the other players around them operate. If Atlanta places shooting at every other position, having two players who work best inside the lane won’t be as big of a detriment as it looks on paper.
We know Young is viable from out there. Hunter and Reddish were drafted with the intention of becoming 3-and-D wings over time. Reddish has the defense but is only shooting 30.9 percent on 3-pointers. Hunter has been more productive offensively (12.3 points per game) but his 33.8 3-point percentage isn’t scaring teams yet.
Huerter though has really come into his own this year. He’s up to 39.9 percent from deep and is attempting 5.7 3-pointers per game. He also has become a secondary ball-handler for the team. At times he’ll even orchestrate the pick-and-rolls to start the Hawks offense. Outside of Young, Huerter might be the biggest winner of this move. Teams will need to decide (quickly) whether to leave a near 40-percent 3-point shooter open or leave a high-jumping, rim-running, efficient-scoring center in the paint.
However, before the answer plays out on the court Capela needs to first get healthy again. He’s been in-and-out all season for Houston. His latest ailment is a heel injury that has kept him out since the end of January.
Reports were that he is likely to remain on the sideline until the All-Star break and that the injury could potentially be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. Atlanta will need him more next year than this as they have no realistic chance at making the playoffs. However, the sooner he’s on the court the quicker they can figure out how to best use Capela and Collins together.