Houston Rockets vs Atlanta Hawks game preview - November 25

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages
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Houston Rockets vs Atlanta Hawks: Player to watch

Trae Young and Dejounte Murray may grab all the headlines, but the Hawks’ early season success has been in large part driven by former Rocket Clint Capela. As a defense-first team, the Hawks have survived largely because of lucky opponent 3-point shooting and excellent rim protection from Capela. 

With Capela on the court, opponents get 29.4% of their shots at the rim and only convert at a 61.2% clip. When Capela sits, those figures balloon to 38.8% and 68.1%. The best rim protectors don’t just send attempts around the basket flying. They also prevent them from ever happening. Capela is doing both, but his importance goes beyond that. 

One of the reasons why the Hawks’ defense looks primed to regress is that they foul at an exceedingly high rate. Their opponents' free throw to field goal attempt rate of .229 is the fifth highest in the league. However, Capela isn’t part of the problem. With him on the court, opponents have a .260 free throw attempt rate (a different metric than free throw to field goal attempt rate, which measures made free throws and not free throw attempts), and when he sits, it’s .337. 

To illustrate just how sizeable of a difference that is, the Pistons, on offense, have the league’s highest free throw attempt rate at .318, while the Memphis Grizzlies rank 19th in the league at .262. Capela has held up his end of the bargain for the Hawks. He’s preventing shots at the rim, swatting them when they do dare test him, and helps protect the Hawks from getting destroyed every night at the free throw line. 

Capela is a limited offensive player, as Rockets fans are well aware, but he should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year. The Hawks are 11-7, even if they shouldn’t be, and it’s mainly because of their defense, and Capela is their defense.