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Lost in the shuffle at NBA Media Day was Clint Capela's assertion that he wanted to be "one of the best defenders in the league." But is that an achievable goal for the 28-year-old?

To answer that question, we must start by looking back. (Cue 1990s sitcom dream sequence editing). After leading the NBA in rebounds during the 2020-21 season and being rewarded with a contract extension, Capela's statistics regressed across the board in the following season.


However, it was not due to a lack of effort or skill. Capela spent the summer of 2021 conditioning in unconventional ways as he recovered from a non-surgical procedure on his Achilles tendon. After missing all but one preseason game, Capela had to play his way into shape to start the season. The results were not always pretty.

Both traditional and advanced stats depict a steep dropoff in production. For most of the season, the motor Capela played with and set him apart from other post players was missing a gear. 

In an interview with The Athletic last March, Capela pointed to the shortened offseason, "Sometimes, you just feel like you have to regenerate. At the end of last season, I was gassed. I needed some time away. I was drained."

This offseason was a full five months - twice as long as last summer. Assuming Capela is fully healthy and well-rested (or regenerated), he can easily work his way back into the conversation for NBA's best defender.

Defensive Player of the Year Factors

First, let's reiterate that Capela said, "one of the best defenders," not the best defender. But being one of the best defenders should place a player in the conversation for NBA Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY).

Last year, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart won the award, becoming the first backcourt player to take home the hardware since Gary Payton in 1996. But, honestly, it was primarily due to voter fatigue on Rudy Gobert. 

The Utah Jazz center had won three of the last five years, and fickle voters were ready for a fresh face. Last year's outlier aside, the DPOY Award often goes to the league's best rim defender.

To be in the conversation as the league's best defender, Capela would need to be near the top in all of the following categories: blocked shots, defensive rebounds, and defensive rating.

Last season, Capela finished 20th in blocked shots, 12th in defensive rebounds, and 17th in defensive rating. However, Capela was often pulled out of position to clean up the mistakes of the Hawks' woeful perimeter defenders. Adding Dejounte Murray and a slew of defensive-minded veterans will resolve that problem.

Capela's case for best defender will still rely heavily on his teammates. The past five DPOY winners played for teams that finished the regular season with a top-three defensive rating. The Hawks finished 26th last season.

Realistic Goals

If all goes to plan this season, Capela will serve as the defensive anchor for a team who has expressed championship aspirations. The 28-year-old is still in his prime and playing in the ideal situation for a player with his skill set. Even better, the Hawks' reconfigured coaching staff is working to instill a defensive identity on the team.

Winning the 2022 NBA DPOY Award is a long shot for Capela. But being "one of the best defensive players in the league" is not only an achievable goal but a realistic benchmark.

If Capela's teammates can lighten the big man's burden on defense, then 'The Swiss Bank' is back in business. If Capela reaches his 2020-21 level of production, then the Hawks are back in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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