Clint Capela Will Fill Void Left by Dwight HowardOctober 28, 2016
HOUSTON — When it comes to describing NBA big men, the conversation invariably turns to physical attributes, punctuated by terms like length, build, weight, wingspan and, of course, height.
After all, you can’t teach height, right?
Not surprisingly, those same elements come up when discussing the long-limbed and rangy Clint Capela, who’s stepped into the role of Houston Rockets starting center—after Dwight Howard’s contentious, yet expected, departure to the Atlanta Hawks this past summer.
At 6’10” and now 252 pounds with a 7’5” wingspan, Capela, who came into the league as a rail thin, but superbly athletic, prospect, has worked diligently to increase his strength and durability. His physical gifts, agility and quickness had already prompted the Rockets to draft him in 2014 with the 25th pick.
And, considering the franchise’s storied lineage of legendary big men, the 22-year old native of Switzerland has some pretty big shoes to fill: Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming and maybe Howard.
“For us to have the season we want to have, Clint is going to have to take a big step forward,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said. “And it’s not an easy step to go from playing 15 to 20 minutes to playing 25-plus minutes against frontline guys. That’s a big step. The game’s more physical and takes a big toll on your body to do that night in and night out, but he’s added a lot of muscle, he’s worked extremely hard over the last two years and this offseason, so we feel like he’s someone who can take that step forward.”
In doing so, he’ll have to cut back on his affinity for foul trouble and find a way to improve his free-throw shooting. Last season, he “made” an abysmal 37.9 percent from the line, which could derail Houston’s full-sprint offense, should teams employ the Hack-a-Capela defensive strategy.
As Howard’s backup, Capela averaged a single-digit stat line in 2015-16: 7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, coupled with a player efficiency rating of 18.3. He doesn’t yet have the ability to shoot the mid-range jumper or create his own shot on the low block, so even with increased first-unit run, he’s got a long way to go before his offensive game warrants any consideration.
Luckily for him, he won’t have to be a catalyst in Mike D’Antoni’s system.
All Capela has to do is continue improving his effectiveness around the rim, continue running the floor to catch the throw-ahead transition pass, continue bringing that signature boundless energy on both ends of the floor and continue playing within himself.
If the season opener is any indication, he can maximize this role. During a down-to-the-wire 120-114 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, he finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in only 25 minutes.
“He had a little bit of an Achilles issue and I thought his energy was down a little bit, we talked about it,” D’Antoni said. “But he’s been healthy the last couple games and I thought he looked really good. So I’m excited about Clint. He plays the way we would like a center to play. So yeah, I’m expecting big things out of him.”
Defensively, Capela is already an eager, active defender who’s quick enough to stay in front of guards on perimeter switches and, thanks to his long arms, was able to hold opponents to a lowly 47.3 field goal percentage while defending at the rim last year compared to Howard’s 49.4 percent.
“I try to be loud on defense, talk, be active on defense, transition,” Capela said. “I’m feeling really good and being really involved. I’m just really excited to maybe play more, to bring more to this team because I’m sure I can bring a lot more than I brought last year.”
D’Antoni’s pace and space system is perfect for Capela, who fills his hat on pick-and-roll plays and alley-oops. Unlike Howard, who frequently bemoaned not getting the ball enough, he also doesn’t demand a lot of low-post touches.
“The things I’ve been working on with this new coach, I knew that my job would be to run a lot, which is my game, do pick-and-rolls, which is my game,” Capela said. “They have me doing things that fit my game. Just finish hard, grab rebounds and run.”
Last year, due to Capela’s limited offensive arsenal, the biggest portion of his scoring came from that ability to finish near the cup. Acutely aware of open lanes caused by Houston’s spread offense, he fed on a steady diet of cuts to the basket (33.3 percent frequency) and recorded 99 dunks, mostly as the roll man coming off ball screens, scoring on 61.4 percent of pick-and-roll plays (18.5 percent frequency).
Additionally, with an innate ability to grab offensive rebounds (he corralled 79.9 percent of all contested offensive rebounds last season), it’s no surprise he was able to cash in on an array of putbacks, converting on 66.7 percent with a 25 percent frequency.
“I’m really aware of (offensive rebounds) because all four shooters are spread out of the arc and I’m the only one that can go and grab the offensive rebound,” Capela said. “It’s been working for me. I’ve been grabbing a lot of rebounds, and I will keep doing that.”
With so many potential opportunities alongside James Harden in pick-and-roll situations, Capela’s numbers around the rim, which included an efficient 1.17 points per possession, should improve across the board this season, especially when he crashes towards the basket.
“I talk to Clint everyday about just situations in the pick-and-roll that I see,” Harden said. “You know he’s still young, but he’s learning. I stay on him every single day and it’s great that a vet like Nene (Hilario) can help with that as well. So it’s a learning process, man, it’s a learning process for all our guys and if we can communicate and talk through it, the better off we’ll be.”
ROCKETS INSIDER'S NOTEBOOK
That’s the Basketball Player, Not the Singer
Daryl Morey has a lot of confidence in his franchise player, James Harden. So when the four-time NBA All-Star asked the Rockets general manager to consider Bobby Brown—who bounced around internationally and last played in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009-10—for a chance to compete for a roster spot, he gave him a shot.
Fast forward to Houston’s final preseason game last week against the San Antonio Spurs and Brown, 32, rewarded Morey and Harden’s trust with 23 points and nine assists in a loss, virtually securing his place on the final 15-man roster.
“Bobby made the team, he’s been playing well, he deserves it,” Harden said. “That last game against San Antonio, we didn’t win but he played well. Then yesterday we had open practice, he proved that he can play with the big dogs.”
Brown logged at DNP (coach’s decision) in the season opener, but it’s a long season. He’ll eventually get his chance to contribute.
Did He Say 50?
There’s little to no doubt that the Rockets will run up the scoreboard this season, but Coach D’Antoni is making some bold predictions about what his team can accomplish on the stat sheet.
“I think we should be the best offensive team in the league, I think we should (have 50-point quarters),” said D’Antoni, who recorded a 51-point quarter back in 2014 as the head coach of the Lakers. “I'd be disappointed if we don't have any by January. Don't hold me to it. I've only had a couple in my coaching career, but yeah, we should put up a nice number every night.”
Looks like James Harden is taking his role as the team’s new point guard very seriously. During the regular season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers, he finished with 34 points and a game-high 17 assists.
His dazzling performance running the show is a clear indicator that his league-leading 10.7 assists per game average in the preseason was no fluke.
“It’s my job to get guys shots, get them the ball and just make the right decision,” Harden said. “That’s key for our team.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
Maurice Bobb covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseReport