Hawks Focus on Competition, Commitment, Care During Mini-Camp

mini camp

by Kevin Chouinard (@KLChouinard)

As the Atlanta Hawks convened as a team for the first time since March, head coach Lloyd Pierce kept a healthy dose of perspective for the amount of basketball work that the team could achieve in a two-week window after a six-month pause.

"There are a lot of things that we have to address," Pierce said. "We're not addressing all of those things in two weeks."

Pierce added that his three areas of focus for mini-camp were competition, commitment, and care. 

"We want to compete," Pierce said. "I don't care what we do. I don't care if it's one-on-one. I don't care if it's a shooting competition, but just get in that competitive spirit."

President of Basketball Operations Travis Schlenk added three more C's to the alliterative mix: camaraderie and Clint Capela.

"I think the biggest thing that we want to accomplish out of this is to get our group together and build some more camaraderie," Schlenk said. "This is the first time that Clint is going to have the opportunity to play with that group. That's going to be big for us. But it's also the first time for our young guys that they've been able to play since March."

The NBA put its 2019-20 season on hold in March due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 and the health and safety of its players, employees and fans. When the regular season resumed in a campus setting in Orlando, the format for finishing the compressed season included 22 teams. Since then, the NBA and National Basketball Players' Association came to an agreement that would let the remaining eight teams hold two weeks of voluntary group workouts in a campus-like environment under controlled conditions. 

For the Hawks, those conditions mean quarantining together at a local hotel and commuting by bus to the Emory Sports Medicine Complex. Schlenk admitted that, for a young team like the Hawks, 11 regular-season games in Orlando would have held more experiential value than two weeks of group workouts. 

"There's not going to be a ton that we're going to be able to accomplish from an X's and O's standpoint," he said. "But we can build that camaraderie by having our guys hang out here in the hotel. The staff did a great job putting this hotel together for us. We've got a lot of areas where guys can socialize while socially distanced. I'm really happy with how the hotel turned out."

Pierce noted the importance of having some team bonding time away from the court with Capela. Trae Young, who finished the season ranked second in assists per game (9.3), also sounded quite happy to have another elite pass receiver on the hardwood.

"I threw him a pass today that I did not think he was going to catch. He caught it on his back hip and finished the layup. He's so good with his hands. I can give him a bounce pass or an in-the-air pass, and he'll go get it wherever."

The Hawks acquired the 6-foot-10 center via trade on Feb. 5, but he did not play in a game due to a right calcaneus contusion and plantar fasciitis.

"He has been playing really well and talking," Young added. "You can tell the veteran leadership that he has just from being around guys like (James Harden and Chris Paul). He's so communicative on the defensive end."

In the first few days of camp, Pierce said that he saw in Capela much of the subtle skill that a head coach prizes from the center position, including boxing out. 

John Collins took it one step further. 

"It speaks for itself that he has been able to hold the paint down (in Houston) without a John Collins next to him. It excites me to have a Clint Capela next to me."

Collins, who averaged 10.1 rebounds per game in the 2019-20 regular season, said that he had never played with a teammate who could match him board-for-board on the glass until now.

"He's long, he's athletic, he protects the rim, he has great hands, he finishes what he's supposed to finish, and he's a great teammate. You can't help but not bring that guy along. I'm definitely very confident that he's going to come in and help us out a lot."

Capela now becomes the oldest and most experienced member of a young Hawks core that also includes Young, Collins, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter. The 26-year-old has played in 61 playoff games in his six-year career. If things go well, he will help the rest of that core get to their first sooner rather than later.

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