Clint Capela Is Flaunting His Potential With The Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Clint Capela. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela, the 25th pick in this year’s draft, missed all of training camp with a groin injury, prompting the Houston Rockets to send him to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on a rehabilitation assignment once the D-League season kicked off. Although Capela is still on a minutes restriction, he has played a big role in the Vipers’ hot start. In his first game he gave them a huge spark off the bench with 10 points, five rebounds and four blocks in only 15 minutes. Since then he has appeared in three more games and has continued to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor.

Capela still hasn’t fully recovered from his injury, which is why he’ll likely spend more time with the Vipers over the coming weeks. Nevertheless, even though he hasn’t been operating at 100 percent, he has given an indication of what type of player he could be in the future for the Rockets.


Capela is currently averaging 7.8 points per game with the Vipers on 56.5 percent shooting from the floor. The bulk of his scoring has come in the pick-and-roll, and thanks to his soft hands he’s capable of catching passes on the go. If he’s given the space to take two big steps, he uses his momentum well to attack the rim with strength, making it hard for opposing bigs to alter his shot. He’s not necessarily someone who will power through his defender, but he’s a hefty player who can finish plays above the rim.

When Capela isn’t involved in a play, he camps out on the baseline behind the rim. Once a teammate attacks the basket, he does a good job of moving into the open space to create passing lanes and finishing plays with powerful dunks. That bodes well for him at the next level when he’s paired with the likes of James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Isaiah Canaan.

When it comes to creating shots for himself, though, there’s certainly room for improvement. Capela doesn’t get many post-up opportunities on a game-to-game basis with the Vipers — 11 of his 13 made shots thus far have been assisted — but he’s yet to score in that scenario.

Capela doesn’t look comfortable with the ball in his hands and fails to use his strength in the same way that he does on defense. He’s predictable because his moves are methodical. He doesn’t have a quick first step, either, which helps players shadow his movement step-for-step. He also struggles to finish through contact, especially when he isn’t given the breathing room for a running start.


Capela’s biggest impact while he’s been on assignment with the Vipers has been on the defensive end. He’s only played a total of 49 minutes in his first four games but he has blocked 16 shots in that short span. Not only is he leading the league with 4.0 blocks per game, his 11.6 blocks per 36 minutes put him in a class of his own.

Capela covers a lot of ground on the defensive end. While he isn’t the most nimble of players, he has great shot blocking instincts and doesn’t bite on shot fakes. To go along with his 11.6 blocks, he’s only committing 2.9 fouls per 36 minutes — an impressive mark for a defensive big. Combine that with his size (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan), ability to get off the floor quickly and tendency to keep blocks in play, and he makes for an imposing figure for opponents to try to score on.

Capela is very good at defending the pick-and-roll, too. Although he’s not someone who will be able to switch onto smaller guards and stick with them in isolation at the next level, he gets into position and uses his length to disrupt plays. Even if he does get taken off the dribble, he has the leaping ability and athleticism to recover in a hurry and challenge shots at the rim.

While Capela has been an intimidator in the paint, he has struggled to guard bigs that can space the floor.

Particularly against the Bakersfield Jam, Capela gave Earl Barron far too much room to get a shot off. He didn’t try to get the ball out of his hands by fronting him or creating tough passing lanes for the guards, he just let Barron catch the ball and face-up to the basket with little-to-no resistance. Barron responded by pouring in a season-high 30 points on 14-for-25 shooting.

In general, Capela doesn’t fight for position on defense. That could be because he’s used to guarding more traditional bigs, in which case he’s still adjusting to closing out on players and making it hard for them to catch the ball on the block. He has also been caught ball watching on a few occasions and had some weak closeouts on the perimeter, resulting in players blowing by him for easy looks at the basket.


Capela is grabbing rebounds at a high rate with the Vipers. In 12.4 minutes, he’s averaging 4.8 boards per game. While he doesn’t always box out and occasionally gets outmuscled for position, he has a nose for the ball and uses his length and athleticism to grab rebounds over his opposition. He also does a good job of keeping the ball alive on the offensive glass by tipping it to himself or a teammate.


Because the Vipers’ system is predicated on attacking the paint and shooting threes, Capela isn’t necessarily in the best place to develop his raw skills. He needs to greatly improve his back to the basket game but isn’t given an opportunity to post-up with regularity, due in large part to the Vipers’ insistence to push the ball at every opportunity. He also needs to gain more experience guarding veteran bigs, but there aren’t a lot of high quality centers in the D-League. That allows him to patrol the paint, which is something he already excels at.

With that in mind, Capela has been impressive on the defensive end and has proven that he can make plays in the pick-and-roll. He’s blocking shots at an incredible rate and it’s helping the Vipers win games. On Saturday, for example, Capela swatted away three shots in the final two minutes of a close, 131-125, victory over the Oklahoma City Blue.

Considering that Capela still hasn’t fully recovered from his groin injury (he said he is only now about 90 percent) his performance thus far is a promising sign that he has a bright future with the Rockets. The next step will be whether or not he can maintain his high level of play once his minutes restriction is lifted. If he can, it won’t be long until he’s getting minutes in the NBA.