Houston Rockets: Championship hopes ride or die with Clint Capela

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 1 : Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 1 : Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets battle for a championship is alive and well. However, their hopes ride on the shoulders of one player.

When the Houston Rockets drafted Clint Capela out of Switzerland, no one expected much. That is, no one outside of Daryl Morey and his staff. Fast forward to 2018, even Morey’s expectations have been surpassed.

Dwight Howard was entrenched alongside James Harden. The present and near future seemed set. It appeared the team planned on stashing Capela overseas. However, he was hellbent on coming over right away.

When Capela first got on the court, he was long and skinny. He didn’t seem to have the goods to hold up as a team’s main center. Capela bounced between the G-League (then D-League) and the big league. He occasionally spared Howard and mopped up in garbage time. All in all, not a bad backup center.

Then the marriage between Harden and Howard begin to break down. Howard wouldn’t seed power to perennial-MVP candidate Harden. The team just didn’t mesh. Howard was jettisoned after the ’15-’16 season. Capela then got his shot.

Last season was his first full year to start. He took it and became exactly what the Houston Rockets needed. A center that can play the pick and roll. One that can anchor a defense in the middle. More importantly, for this team, a center that can run the floor. Our own Curt Low broke down Capela’s play prior to this year, back in September.

In the ’17-’18 season, Clint Capela became indispensable. He is operating at a career-high on all accounts. Capela is averaging 13.6 points per game at a 65.2% rate. He is also averaging double-digit rebounds for the first time in his career. On top of that prowess, he is also nearly averaging two blocks a game.

Why is Capela so valuable?

More so than the addition of Chris Paul, the emergence of Capela as a top 5 center is how the Houston Rockets had the best record in the NBA. Yes, Paul added so much to this team. He and Harden have meshed perfectly to create a two-headed monster in the backcourt. With Harden, Paul, and Capela on the floor the Rockets are 44-3.

That being said, Capela is what allows this offense and defense to function the way they do. Capela isn’t a floor spacer like a lot of bigs you see nowadays. However, he provides an anchor in the middle. This allows the four other players on the floor to hover around the three-point line.

Capela is also the perfect fit for the pick and roll. He is athletic enough to pop out and throw a pick and let Harden/Paul do what they do best. Destroy careers.

However, despite his perfect fit into this offense, Capela’s defensive impact is what skyrockets his value. The Houston Rockets’ defensive scheme leans on the switch. It relies on players being able to seamlessly flow from player to player with little negative impact.

Capela’s athleticism lends a hand to this as well. He, better than most bigs, is able to switch on to smaller players and keep up with them. He can also line up on the opposing big and completely shut them down. Just like he has down with Karl-Anthony Towns, who is typically regarded as the better player.

Playoff X-Factor

Towns first two playoff games were terrible. He looked like a guy who barely scraped by on a playoff starting five. This, obviously, had nothing to do with Towns’ talent. It has everything to do with Capela’s talent.

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After averaging over 21 points in the regular season, Capela has held him to only 10 points per game. However, in the first two games, he was held to 8 points and 5 points. Completely shut down. The Houston Rockets were able to take care of business and run the Timberwolves out of the building. All this in spite of poorer than normal offensive games.

Game three painted a different picture. Towns progressed more towards his normal self. He scored 18 points and was able to establish a rhythm. The Timberwolves handled their business and cut the series lead in half.

These wins and a loss aren’t a coincidence. Capela shut down the Timberwolves best player and the Rockets won. Capela didn’t completely shut down Towns and the Timberwolves won.

Next: Top three moments of 2017

This will be the story throughout the rest of the playoffs. Harden is the Houston Rockets best player. Paul is the Rockets second best player. But, Capela will be the most valuable asset in the playoffs. Because of this, the Houston Rockets championship hopes will ride or die by Clint Capela.