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What’s a Capela?

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Who’s Clint Capela?

If you didn’t know his name before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, no one would have blamed you, but man did he look good. Capela only played 13 minutes against the Warriors Tuesday night in relief of Dwight Howard after Howard suffered a knee injury colliding with teammate Josh Smith, but Capela shined in his limited minutes for the Rockets. The rookie big man went 4 for 4 with nine points, four rebounds, a steal and a block, all the while playing good overall defense.

More importantly, the team just looked better when Capela was on the floor, going on a 15-7 run in the first quarter when he came in for Howard. It can’t all be attributed to Capela, obviously, but a lot of people were asking where this kid came from.

A quick perusal of the Internet can answer that question: Clint Capela is from Switzerland, and before declaring for the NBA Draft last year, he played for the French professional basketball team Élan Chalon from 2012 to 2014. The Rockets then selected him with the 25th pick in the draft this past year. During his rookie season, Capela played for both the Rockets and their D-League affiliate team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he made the D-league’s All-Defensive First Team.

Capela only played 12 games for the Rockets in the regular season, averaging 2.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in 7.5 minutes per game. His best games came toward the end of the season, with his most productive outing coming against the Hornets on April 13. In that game, he played 17 minutes, went 4 for 4, had five rebounds and a block. Sure it was just the Hornets, but Capela has been having these small splashes of solid play and many people haven’t noticed. Looking at his per-36 minutes stats, he’s at 12.8 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.6 blocks.

Per-minute stats aren’t perfect and need to be taken with a grain of salt for bench players, for a few reasons. They’re playing lesser competition and aren’t usually going up against starting caliber NBA players. Also, bench players who know they’ll only be logging 15 minutes per game (or less) can play harder when they’re on the court, since they know they don’t have to keep up the pace the entire game.

Still, Capela’s development at the end of the regular season was promising for a rookie taken late in the first round, especially when paired with some of the contributions he has made in the postseason, including that stellar Game 1 effort against the best team in the league.

Few teams with the 25th pick in the draft should expect the player they select to contribute right away, but Capela is in a position to do just that for the Rockets. If Howard’s knee injury limits him further in the series, Capela will need to step up and put in real minutes at center. Hopefully for the Rockets, he’s ready for the task.

Even if Capela only turns into a solid rotation big man, the Rockets should be pleased with their selection. Asking more than that may be setting expectations a little too high, but who knows, perhaps he blossoms into a major contributor down the road.

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