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Houston Rockets 2016-2017 season recap: Clint Capela

Apr 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) dunks the ball during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) dunks the ball during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Apr 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center C. Capela (15) dunks the ball during the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela is a young and upcoming big man for the Houston Rockets. In his first year as starter, Capela did not disappoint.

One year ago, the Houston Rockets finished the regular season as the eight seed in the Western Conference. They struggled to even finish the regular season with a .500 record. It was apparent that changes needed to happen after the Warriors beat the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, and one of those changes came in the form of Dwight Howard‘s departure.

When Howard left for Atlanta, the next man up was 22-year-old Clint Capela. Many wondered how he would do as Houston’s newest starting center, citing his youth and lack of experience. Fortunately, it did not take long for fans to see why Clint was the right man for the job.

Clint’s style turned out to be an ideal fit with Mike D’Antoni‘s offense, playing the pick-and-roll to perfection on a nightly basis. He quickly made a fantastic connection with newly appointed point guard, James Harden. And it is difficult to remember that Capela is only just 22 years old.

Let’s see how Clint Capela was able to have such a successful season in 2017.

Next: Overall Impact

Feb 19, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets C. Capela (15) dunks against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Rockets won 116-100. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela’s unselfish style of play benefited the Houston Rockets nightly.

Before I begin, let me preface this section of the article with one thought. I have nothing against Dwight Howard and believe that he is a very talented center in the NBA. I have never considered myself a hater of Dwight Howard and actually respect his game. D12 was simply not a good fit with the Houston Rockets.

Daryl Morey and the Rockets are trying to move the team into the new age NBA where big men are restricted from frequently posting up. This system does not include a center that wants to post up as much as Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, D12 never adapted to this type of basketball and even voiced his inability to change to USA Today Sports.

"“The way the (NBA) game is played (now), it’s all outside-in, it’s threes, it’s super-fast. It’s really like we’re dinosaurs, and they’re trying to extinct us. But the Ice Age will not come, and we will not be extinct."

This mindset that Howard has ultimately led to his departure from Houston. When he signed with Atlanta, the Rockets were left without the star that they once had on the low block. To fill the void, Clint Capela stepped into the starting role. While Capela was seen as a back up center at the time, his fit into the Rockets’ up-tempo system has been perfect–a fit that Howard never seemed to find with Houston.

Capela was able to find a role with Houston by allowing Harden and others to create for him. He never demanded the ball on post ups and was able to adapt to D’Antoni’s offensive schemes.

Numerical breakdown of the difference in playing styles:

It is easy to see the difference between Howard and Capela when looking at player tracking stats on NBA.com. Even though Houston has a different offense than Atlanta, the difference between Capela’s shot frequency versus Dwight’s in 2017 is striking.

Clint Capela’s 2016-2017 shot frequency:

Post up: 3.3% Pick-and-roll: 28.0%

Dwight Howard’s 2016-2017 shot frequency:

Post up: 28.0% Pick-and-roll: 10.1%

Because Capela does not demand the post up touches that Howard does, both he and the Rockets benefited. The Rockets’ offense became more efficient by keeping up the pace and eliminating the inefficient post shot that Dwight brought to the table. There was no more ball watching and no more plays that involved just one player using the majority of the shot clock.

Video breakdown of the difference in playing styles:

Here is a video of Dwight Howard in a game versus the Knicks in the 2013. While it was four years ago, this video shows Howard’s post game that he still uses today. It is not that he misses in this play, but it is the amount of standing around and watching from the other players that makes this losing basketball. Notice how Harden, Chandler Parsons, and Patrick Beverley are all on the three-point line while Howard’s only idea is to put up a hook shot.

When Capela took the reigns as Houston’s starting center, his unselfishness transformed the Rockets for the better. He does not demand post up touches that eat into the shot clock. Instead, he is happy with his offense being created by others and hustling to get his points.

In the video below, there are two plays that sums up Clint’s season. In the first play, Clint sets a pick, rolls, and receives a pass that leads to an easy finish inside. The next play, he runs the floor that also leads to an easy basket. Notice how Clint never even dribbles the ball in both highlights.

Conclusion:

When comparing Dwight to Clint, it is basically a case of addition by subtraction. Maybe Clint can’t post up, but that is okay. In fact, that is preferable. If he wanted to post up, the Rockets would be reduced back to the point where an MVP candidate stands in the corner with no opportunity to create.

Next: Best/Worst Moments

Nov 7, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Capela (15) dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards in the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Capela had his ups and downs this season. Let’s take a look.

Best moment: Returning the favor vs. Westbrook

It was the early stages of the 2016-2017 season in a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook rose up and dunked on Clint Capela to seal a Thunder victory in a very close game. That video will not be found within this article because I cringe every time I happen to see it.

Fast forward to the 2017 NBA playoffs and the tables turned. Instead of Westbrook receiving the glory, Capela had the last laugh. Capela received a pass from Lou Williams and slammed it on Westbrook.

This highlight that occurred in the first round capped off a stellar season full of Clint Capela’s down-low heroics. He had so many ferocious dunks all season long and this one was, in my opinion, the best one.

Worst moment: Midseason broken fibula

Clint suffered a broken fibula in a mid-season game versus the Timberwolves. Capela was unable to play for a month as a result of the injury.

Fortunately, the Rockets were able to maintain their success with the absence of Capela. Montrezl Harrell and Nene were viable back ups who did a great job filling in for Clint.

For Clint, the injury happened in the heart of the season. Luckily, Capela was able to bounce back from the injury and finish the season strong. It goes to show how good his 2016-2017 campaign was that a minor injury ended up being the lowlight of the whole thing.

Next: How Capela Can Improve

Dec 7, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston’s Clint Capela (15) warms up before playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

While Clint Capela has shown he belongs in the NBA, there is still room for improvement. There are two ways that Capela can improve his game even more.

Because he only is 22 years old, Clint still has plenty of time to take his game to the next level. There are a few ways that Capela can get better. First, Clint can continue to improve his free throw shooting. While he has gotten better from the stripe, there is still a long ways to go. The last three years of Capela’s young career show this positive trend:

Season                           Free throw percentage (FTM/FTA)

14/15                             17.4%   (4/23) 15/16                             37.9%   (80/211) 16/17                             53.1%   (94/177)

If Capela can continue this trend and get his free throw percentage at around 70%, then he will be even more of a threat on the offensive end.

Another part of Capela’s game that he can improve is his strength inside. Capela will be able to have success against players who he has struggled against historically if he is able to bulk up and gain more strength inside. These players include bigger and tougher opponents like Steven Adams and DeMarcus Cousins.

More from Space City Scoop

Capela has steadily increased his size over his early years in the NBA. He started out as 222 pounds as a rookie and now weighs in at 240 pounds. If he puts on weight and is able to maintain his incredible ability to run the floor, he’ll be squarely in the top tier of traditional big men in the league.

This is just the start of the Clint Capela era.

Capela had such a stellar year that it is hard to remember that he is only 22 years old. The future looks bright for Houston as it seems they have found a starting center for many years to come. It was a joy to watch Capela every night this past season and it will be exciting to see his growth in the future.

Next: Top 5 Rockets highlights of 2016-17

Stay tuned to Space City Scoop for more Houston Rockets coverage as the draft and free agency draw nearer.

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