Clint Capela is ready to make the third year leap for the Rockets

The Houston Rockets had a busy offseason. They hired Mike D’Antoni to coach the team and signed free agents Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene Hilario to bolster their offense. After the departure of Dwight Howard the center position looked to be Clint Capela’s, but the acquisition of Nene looks likely to move the talented 22-year old to the backup spot instead.

Houston’s offense will likely improve under D’Antoni, allowing superstar James Harden to thrive with the ball mainly in his hands. Adding two capable spot-up shooters in Gordon and Anderson helps their spacing but doesn’t do their defense any favors. The defensive onus will now fall primarily to Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza on the perimeter, and Capela at the rim.

Capela is entering his third season with Houston and while he’s shown flashes of brilliance, his lack of experience still looms as a concern for a guy who the team will certainly rely heavily upon this year. The addition of Nene is underrated as the 33-year old vet will bring leadership, passing ability, solid post defense and the ability to pick-and-pop with Harden. At this point in his development, Capela is void of those skills and Nene will fill that role well.

After developing nicely in his rookie season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers — the Rockets’ D-League affiliate — Capela earned more opportunities last season. He ended the year averaging 7.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just over 19 minutes per contest. The numbers bely his actual impact as the team went 22-11 in games Capela played 20 minutes or more. Compare that to a pedestrian 19-30 in games he played less than 20 minutes and the picture starts coming into focus.

Created by Chris Reichert (@Chris_Reichert)

Created by Chris Reichert (@Chris_Reichert)

The chart above gives a glimpse into what we might expect in terms of production this season. The top line are Capela’s averages in his 33 games last year with 20 or more minutes played. One area to focus on will be the young big man’s fouls, which could be an issue this season as he will be the main rim protector for the first time in his career. In those 33 games he accrued five or more fouls six times. Stretch that over a full 82-game season and he would have fouled out of eight games; at least. Choosing which battles to go all-in on at the rim will be paramount to his ability to stay on the floor and still pose a threat.

He has shown the ability to block shots without fouling in the past, however.

Both of these clips show Capela’s ability to first move his feet laterally to stay with opponents. Then, he bodies them up and has the quick-jump ability to fully stretch and deny their attempts. Capela has learned to give guys a little room, so they don’t simply blow by him off the dribble and this awareness has enabled him to be much more productive as a perimeter defender.

This end of the court will continue to be his bread and butter. The ability to defend players the caliber of Karl Anthony-Towns one-on-one is invaluable and D’Antoni will lean on him heavily in that department this season. Remember, Capela is only 22-years old so by no means is he a finished product, but the improvements seen from year one to year two have people inside the organization so bullish on him moving forward.

Last season there were three players 22 or younger who played 500+ minutes, had a block rate of 5%+, and defensive rebound rate of 20%+ — Myles Turner, Jusuf Nurkic and Clint Capela. This young, Swiss big man is going to make plenty of money on his next contract and his rebounding prowess and ability to block shots will be the primary catalysts.

On offense, Capela is still extremely raw. He doesn’t have consistent post moves, a face-up game or the ability to knock down a mid-range jump shot. However, he’s downright lethal in the pick-and-roll; which is where the Rockets intend to use him on that end of the court. Last season he notched 1.17 PPP as the roll man in the PnR which put him in the 83rd percentile in the league and eighth best among players with at least 100 possessions.

Most plays like this end up with him finishing with a dunk, but this right handed hook over Paul Millsap is encouraging moving forward. If he can develop any semblance of quality post finishes, then he could jump to around 13-15 points a night instead of the projected 11.

The Rockets rarely fed Capela the ball in traditional post-up scenarios, however he’s shown flashes of scoring there as well.

One thing to notice here is the decisive nature of his move. Most bigs receive this pass, face up in a triple threat and then make a decision. Capela knows that he does not have any intention of shooting a jump shot, so he instead uses an inside pivot, and his quickness, to gain the upper hand on an adequate defender in Robin Lopez, and then finishes over RoLo and Kristaps Porzingis.

While possessions like this won’t be the norm for Capela, the threat of the attack is necessary for his, and his teammates’, success.

Clint Capela is just 22-years old and after two years in the Rockets’ system — the first spent mainly played in the D-League — looks primed for a breakout season. The timing is perfect as the increased opportunity comes after massive improvement in his overall skillset, as well as his overall feel for the NBA game. Capela was playing pro ball in France before the Rockets selected him in the 2014 NBA Draft, but the level of competition is obviously higher now, the style of play is vastly different and he simply needed time to adjust.

The Rockets gave him the time and just as vital, he used his stint with the Vipers to really improve, and now both will see the fruits of their patience and labor. Basketball Twitter has been clamoring over Capela for years. Now, casual fans will also have a chance to fall in love with the Swiss defender extraordinaire.