If you’re looking for a potential breakout star on this year’s Houston Rockets roster, look no further than center Clint Capela. The constellations appear to be aligned for him to take the next step in his development.
After seeing the floor for a combined 217 minutes (including the playoffs) during his rookie season, the 21-year-old will enter the 2015-16 campaign as the backup to Dwight Howard and will even get the starting nod for the season opener while D12 serves his one-game suspension.
With Howard sitting out the preseason so far, Capela is taking advantage of the increase in playing time. The 2014 first-round pick is averaging eight points, 9.7 boards, a steal and a block in 24 minutes per game. The improvement in the big fella’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.
“Clint Capela has been playing really well for us,” said head coach Kevin McHale. “Clint has been fantastic. Dwight’s been out quite a bit. Clint’s been our best big by far.”
He also looks noticeably bigger this season. According to McHale, Capela bulked up to around 246 pounds after weighing in 222 last season.
Capela showed flashes of his potential during last year’s playoffs. While he contributed just 3.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.5 minutes per game, his per-36 numbers were comparable to the man he’ll be backing up this season: Dwight Howard.
- Howard: 17.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks
- Capela: 16.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks
This season, the Rockets will lean need to lean more on Capela than they did during his rookie season. Howard’s caddy from last season, Joey Dorsey, was sent to the Denver Nuggets in the Ty Lawson trade and was eventually waived. Emerging big man Donatas Motiejunas is still recovering from a back injury that cut short his 2014-15 campaign while the team is expected to monitor Howard’s minutes to keep him fresh for the playoffs. The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year missed 41 games last season and played through the Western Conference Finals with a torn MCL and meniscus. The injuries weren’t severe enough to require offseason surgery, but as he enters the 12th NBA season, it’s becoming clear Howard is no spring chicken.
While Capela is still a long way from being the all-around interior force that Howard is, he can still set the tone early as a potentially dominant rim-protector. While the sample size is too small for him to qualify on the leaderboards, the Swiss shot-swatter had a block percentage of 7.8 percent as a rookie. By comparison, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert led the NBA with seven percent. Capela also led all Rockets players with a defensive rating of 97.
Capela wasted little time showing off his defensive chops this season, as the Dallas Mavericks’ Jeremy Evans can attest after this clip below.
While defense comes natural for Capela, the same can’t be said about his offensive game. Of his 60 field-goal attempts last season, 47 came around the rim, where he converted 72.3 percent. Beyond that, he shot just 1-for-13. The Rockets also scored just 99.4 points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor. This shot chart, courtesy of Vorped.com, paints a clearer picture of his scoring acumen, or lack thereof.
Fortunately, Houston has guys like Howard, James Harden, Ty Lawson, and Trevor Ariza to pick up the scoring slack. With more experience, Capela could hopefully develop into a Tyson Chandler-esque finisher around the hoop.
Capela will have a hard time finding any of the spotlight on a team with so many marquee names, but he has the potential to become an important piece to the Rockets’ championship puzzle. He’s steadily improved at every level from a raw D-League prospect to one of the preseason’s biggest surprises. With his role set to increase this season, the skids are greased for Capela to become Houston’s next draft gem.