Unless you’re an avid Houston Rockets fan or an NBA draft geek like myself, last Saturday was probably the first time you’ve heard the name Clint Capela.
Capela was taken 25th by Houston in last summer’s draft after playing two seasons with Chalon in the French League. Capela was expected to play out like a typical Eurostash and stay overseas until the Rockets were ready to take him in, but Capela made the jump to the NBA right away—or should I say, the D-League.
Capela only played 12 games for Houston in the regular season after playing 38 games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League. You shouldn’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of Capela. Even his own coach Kevin McHale said the Rockets would be in trouble if he was getting significant playing time in the playoffs—and that was just three weeks ago.
Somewhere along his path of obscurity, Clint Capela has emerged as a significant cog in the Houston Rockets machine.
At 6’10” with a 7’5” wingspan, it’s obvious that Capela was shipped over from France to play defense and protect the rim. With Donatas Motiejunas sidelined with a back injury and Dwight Howard in early foul trouble, Capela was called upon to do just that against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1.
Capela played 16 minutes, drawing assignments on Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and even Dirk Nowitzki throughout the night. Capela swatted two shots and grabbed six boards and even showed off a surprise offensive attack with eight points.
On offense, Capela is restricted to the paint and doesn’t have a semblance of a post game yet, so he’s limited to scores off of pick and rolls and putbacks.
Per NBA.com, Capella was 3-13 on shots outside the paint in the D-League, and he hasn’t attempted a shot outside the paint in the NBA. Almost all (96.2 percent) of Capela’s shots in the D-League came from the paint, where he made a healthy 61.7 percent.
It’s probably a good thing Capela is sticking to the paint. Capela’s jumper is shaky at best—calling it shaky might actually be a compliment. Capela started his career 0-15 from the free throw line, the worst start at the line in a player’s career in NBA history. He shot 59.6 percent from the line in the D-League, which isn’t complete garbage, so let’s hope the rough start is just a hiccup.
Capela’s decent mobility and solid athleticism combined with his length, helps him make up for missed assignments on defense. Capela’s thin build and lack of experience still hurts him as an individual defender, but the potential is there.
It’s a small sample size, but he led the Rockets with a 29.5 percent opponent’s field goal percentage during the regular season, per Synergy.
In a bigger sample size in D-League play, Capela averaged 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and three blocks per game shooting 60 percent from the field in 24 minutes per game. Per 40 minutes, those numbers explode to 26.8 points, 16.2 rebounds, and five (!) blocks per game. You can take those numbers with a grain of salt since the Rio Grande Valley Vipers played at an absurdly fast pace, averaging 123.3 points per game, but nonetheless, his play was still impressive.
When you play with guys like James Harden and Dwight Howard you don’t need to be a superstar. You just need to play your defined role to the best of your ability. Capela’s job is to win the battle inside, stay in front of his man, and play help defense.
At just 20 years old, Capela has a chance to be more than just a role player one day, but right now he’s playing an essential role for Houston. That might come in five minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes of playing time, depending on how McHale is feeling on a given night, but those minutes could be the difference between a win and a loss.