Rockets starting to maximize Clint Capela’s potential

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

When Mike D’Antoni turned James Harden into a lethal point guard, he empowered nearly every other Rockets contributor. One of the greatest beneficiaries who’s thrived in a supporting role is third-year center Clint Capela.

The 6’10” Swiss prospect has shouldered increased duties after the departure of Dwight Howard. Capela now serves as Clutch City’s starting center and primary interior weapon, and he’s risen to the occasion in rim-rocking fashion. He continued his strong November with a career-high 21 points and nine boards during the Rockets’ win over Portland Sunday.

By crashing the glass, running the floor and executing explosive pick-and-rolls with Harden, Capela has become one of the toughest covers in the Western Conference. The 22-year-old uses his athleticism and 7’4.5″ wingspan to outplay opponents above the rim on both ends of the floor.

The tremendous physical tools are a huge plus, but it takes more than just long arms and leaping ability to thrive like Capela. He’s done a magnificent job rim-running, sliding along the baseline and timing his attacks. Capela’s also shown increased end-to-end energy and a softer scoring touch around the basket this season.

With upgraded interior skills and a greater frequency of pick-and-rolls with Harden, Capela is now one of the most imposing frontcourt role players in the league. He’s averaging 12.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, which translates to 17.0 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. He has already recorded five double-doubles despite a modest 26.2 minutes per game.

He’s churned out this production efficiently, notching an NBA-best field-goal percentage of 62 percent so far. D’Antoni and Harden consistently have found ways to get Capela favorable looks close to the bucket. In fact, more than 99 percent of his field-goals are within 10 feet of the hoop. With dangerous outside shooters like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza stretching opposing defenders, there’s loads of space for Harden and Capela to besiege the basket.

Opponents constantly have to track and (try to) trap Harden, who is arguably the best dual-threat guard in the league, and The Beard has consistently found Capela when they overpursue. It’s happened countless times, including several instances against the Blazers’ porous defense Sunday:

Whether it’s a drive-and-dish play, a pick-and-roll, or a semi-transition situation, Capela is in the right place and is the perfect type of receiver for someone like Harden.

He has proven to be a bit more than just a dunker, which has helped boost his low-post viability. Watch how he ran the floor, planted and turned for a smooth hook shot against 7’2″ tower Rudy Gobert:

A bunch of Capela’s offense also comes from the glass, where his bounciness and incredible wingspan overwhelm opponents. His offensive rebounding percentage is 11.9 percent, good for ninth in the league. His 3.7 offensive boards per game result in put-back buckets, extra possessions for the Rockets and fewer possessions for opponents.

Capela is proving that he can fill a substantial role for the Rockets with electric energy. Earlier this month, D’Antoni talked to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle about Capela’s improved end-to-end activity:

The biggest thing is his energy level seemed to where he can now sustain 25 minutes – we’d like to get 30 minutes – of rebounding, blocking shots, running the floor. He’s progressing real nice.

In addition to establishing terrific chemistry with Harden and gobbling up rebounds, Capela has grown into a solid defender.

As an isolation stopper and help defender, he’s produced a career-best block-to-foul ratio (2.0 blocks and just 2.6 fouls per game). He knows how to use his length to create a vertical fortress around the rim, jumping straight up without fouling.

Capela also gets off the ground exceptionally fast, which enables him to alter tons of shots even when he isn’t in perfect position. It allows him to time his contests and wait until the attacker has fully committed to shooting.

Here’s an example of his explosive help defense. Capela took a couple of quick strides and burst skyward to stuff Markieff Morris:

There are several capable rim-protecting centers around the league, but only a select few can also guard the perimeter and stymie pick-and-rolls. Capela is one of them. He moves his feet extremely well and recovers quickly compared to the vast majority of NBA centers. It’s part of the reason why the Rockets are 2.5 points better defensively when he’s on the floor (per 100 possessions).

Don’t believe that he’s a legitimate two-way force? Capela is averaging 1.09 points per possession on offense while holding opponents to 0.76 points per possession. That puts him in the upper echelon of NBA bigs.

To get an idea of how Capela’s points-per-possession differential compares to the rest of the league, check out this graphic assembled by FanRag Assistant Editor Kelly Scaletta (via Tableau Public). Capela is in the upper-right quadrant, reserved for players who generate a ton of offense and limit opponents to minimal gains (blue is good):



That’s an impressive feat for a 22-year-old playing in his first season of high-volume usage. For Rockets fans, it’s an exciting preview of things to come if the Swiss prodigy sticks around for a few more years.

Capela is in a nearly ideal situation in Houston. There’s an elite guard to do all the creating, an artillery of three-point shooters to space the floor, and a need for his production as a rebounder and rim protector. With Dwight Howard out of the picture and D’Antoni pushing for Capela to get even more playing time, nights like Sunday will become closer to the norm than an aberration.

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