Houston Rockets: Capela’s early case for NBA’s Most Improved Player

Houston Rockets center Clint Capela and guard James Harden (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets center Clint Capela and guard James Harden (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets center Clint Capela is off to a hot start on the hardwood and he’s making an early to case to win NBA’s Most Improved Player honors. How so?

The talented Harden-era Houston Rockets have struggled for years with cleaning up missed shots and creating opportunities via the all-important rebound. With Clint Capela’s phenomenal early season rebounding improvement, could that issue now be resolved?

The new-look Houston Rockets feature two of the NBA’s last three MVP Award winners on the same roster. While much has been speculated concerning how a team featuring the playing styles of both James Harden and Russell Westbrook might function, perhaps the biggest surprise concerning the Houston Rockets’ emerging chemistry and identity is center, Clint Capela.

Capela’s early-season campaign by the numbers

The Houston Rockets have completed slightly less than 15 percent of their 82-game season. And though there remains so much basketball ahead for the Rockets, Capela’s rebounding and blocked shot averages might tempt voters for the NBA Most Improved Player Award to do something they haven’t done since 2006—elect a center as the annual winner.

Capela’s rebounding for this season has been top-notch. Most prominently, for three consecutive games spanning a mere five days in November, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound center successfully secured 20 rebounds per contest.  It’s 11 games into his season and the Rockets‘ starter possesses the sixth-best rebounds per game average in the NBA as well as the second-best average in the Western Conference behind only Utah Jazz center, Rudy Gobert.

Capela’s 137 total rebounds rank him at fifth in the NBA after 11 games played. Additionally, the Rockets‘ center is ninth in the NBA in total offensive rebounds and sixth in defensive rebounds—good for a ratio of offensive to defensive rebounds of roughly 1-to-3. Also impressively, Capela currently ranks in fifth place in the NBA, averaging 2.2 blocks per game, with 24 total on the early season thus far.

The Swiss veteran is currently listed as day-to-day following a potential concussion suffered in a contest against the Los Angeles Clippers. He did not play in last night’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers, and remains doubtful for tonight’s contest against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Could Clint catch any NBA rebounding records?

Though Capela has played in only 11 games, the following calculation represents a projection of where the Rockets’ big man could end up at the end of the current 82-game regular season, provided he does not cool off: at a current average of 12.5 total rebounds per game, the center could finish the season in the neighborhood of approximately 1,020 rebounds. Needless to say—in addition to staying the course or cooling off—Capela might be coming into his own as an elite NBA rebounder and may even increase his torrid rebounds per game pace as the season progresses.

Interestingly, over the last 25 years, eight players led the NBA in total rebounds with less than 1,000 at the end of a season. In other words, 32 percent of the time over the last 25 NBA seasons, a player who accumulated less than 1,000 rebounds finished in first place in total rebounds. So Capela finishing with 1,000 rebounds might be enough to lead the NBA in rebounds this season.

However, over the last two seasons, being the league’s top rebounder has required securing north of 1,200 rebounds per season—a feat accomplished by reigning back-to-back annual rebound leader, Andre Drummond, of the Detroit Pistons.

Could Clint set a Rockets’ single-season or career rebounding record?

Only two Rockets have ever led the league in total rebounds in a single season—NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone. Dream accomplished the feat twice with Houston, while Malone led the NBA in rebounding a whopping six seasons, three of which were with the Rockets.

Malone’s 1978-79 contribution of 1,444 rebounds set the Houston Rockets’ franchise record for

total rebounds in a single season—a rebounding total that has been surpassed only once since then in the NBA by Dennis Rodman’s 1991-92 campaign. Nonetheless, when Malone set a single-

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season career-high with 1,444 total rebounds, the Hall of Famer averaged more than 41 minutes per game; whereas, Capela, averaging 30.2 minutes per contest, does not project to play nearly enough minutes to get close to Malone’s massive single-season rebounding total.

From a career perspective, the all-time NBA rebounds leader remains Wilt Chamberlain, who accumulated 23,924. Though Capela’s career appears far from over, the 25-year-old currently ranks around 605th in NBA history with 2,843 total rebounds. The Rockets’ center has averaged 9.3 rebounds per game in his six-year career. However, that career average remains negatively skewed by Capela only playing in 12 regular-season contests as a rookie during the 2014-15 season—a season in which he only averaged three rebounds per game.

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How many rebounds Capela ends up with over his career—or even at the end of the 2019-20 season remains anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, one thing is certain: the “Swiss Bank” is reinvigorating weary Rockets fans, giving them hope for investing their faith in a 2020 championship run.

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