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Houston Rockets: The Clint Capela era is upon us

Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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Clint Capela is at the beginning of what will be a career year, and some think that he could develop into the best center in the game.

Clint Capela has come a very long way since he entered the league in the 2014-15 season.

Back then, he was the last center on the Rockets depth chart, and he averaged just 2.7 points and 7.5 minutes per game. Capela spent most of his time watching the game from the bench, observing starting center Dwight Howard set endless screens and throw down lobs.

Clint Capela had a special connection with Dwight Howard before he ever entered the NBA. Capela, who grew up in Switzerland, was a late bloomer when it came to basketball. His first contact with the game didn’t come until the age of 13.

By the time he was 14, Capela was already good enough, or tall enough, to make the Swiss basketball team for kids 16-and-under. His teammates were looking at highlights from NBA players, and that was the time when Capela discovered Dwight Howard. This was the Orlando Magic version of Howard, the guy who led the league in rebounds in almost every year and won three Defensive Player of the Year awards. Howard was unquestionably the most dominant center in the league, until injuries and even his own ego ended his reign.

Dwight Howard’s relationship with James Harden and the Rockets organization soured, and he ended up going back home to play for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2016-17 season. And then, nearly a decade after first watching Howard terrorize opposing centers, Capela was standing in his spot.

Capela took full advantage of his new starting role, averaging 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game at just 22 years old. And the ever-growing big man has kicked his production up another notch this season.

Career-highs across the board

Through the first 12 games of this season, Capela has improved his numbers in nearly every category. Capela is averaging career-highs in points (13.3), rebounds (10.8), assists (1.2), blocks (1.8) and free-throw percentage (71.9). Even more impressively, Capela is averaging a career-high and league leading 69.4 percent from the field. The top three or four leaders in field goal percentage every year are usually some combination of DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. These are the centers that represent what Capela can be in the future, or heck, maybe he could be even better.

Clint Capela
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Clint Capela currently has a player efficiency rating of 28.43, which ranks sixth in the league. To put that into perspective, Capela ranks just behind James Harden, and he’s ranked higher than the likes of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard.

Mike D’Antoni is absolutely convinced that Capela will become one of the league’s best centers, if not the best center, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“To me, it’s just a matter of time. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t become, if not the best center in the league, one of the best. I’ll be shocked.”

James Harden is also impressed with Capela’s improvement, via MacMahon.

“He was just kind of thrown into the fire once Dwight left, but he took it and he ran with it. He’s listened, he’s worked hard every single day in the weight room, and he just got better. Defensively, he got better. Offensively, he’s so mobile and skilled. His touch around the rim has got better. He continues to work. He’s over there working on his free throws as we speak. He won’t stop.”

Speaking of free throw shooting, Capela’s 71.9 percent from the free throw line is average by most player’s standards, but a vast improvement for him. The 23-year old shot just 17.4 percent from the foul line in his rookie season and just 37.9 percent in the year after that, which was the fourth worst percentage in NBA history among players with at least 150 attempts in a season.

Next: ESPN ranks James Harden as the second best player from last week

The decision to sign Chris Paul immediately put Houston in the arms race to defeat Golden State. But the Rockets will need Capela to play at an elite level to compete with the champions, via MacMahon.

“The only way [to overcome the Warriors] is to develop near-elite two-way players. I think Clint has that potential. He’s on the way. He took a big step forward last year. It’s a lot to put on one guy, but we need one more step, at least.”

Overcoming the Warriors will prove to be a large task, but if Clint Capela continues to improve at a consistent rate, the Rockets should get their shot.

*All stats came from ESPN.com.

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