When Dwight Howard opted out of his Rockets contract earlier this summer the question on everyone’s mind was, who will play center now? The answer to that question was already sitting on the team bench in the form of third year, 22-year-old center/forward Clint Capela. Capela, a 6-foot-10 string bean from Switzerland by way of Paris has more than adequately filled the void as the Rockets man in the middle in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system.
The 25th pick in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, Clint was considered a project. He spent the majority of his rookie season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets Development team. When Donatas Motiejunas was injured at the end of the 2014-15 season, Capela seized the opportunity.
Ironically enough, Clint appeared in more playoff games (17) than regular season contests in 2014–15 and averaged 3.4 points in 7.5 minutes per postseason game. The physical ability of Clint Capela was undeniable and Rocket management realized that the harvest was immediate and the future was now.
With a quarter of the season down, the move to start Clint Capela has paid immediate benefits. He’s averaging 11.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and two blocks per game. All this from a player first-year Rocket’s coach Mike D’Antoni admits he knew very little about when he took the job.
“I knew absolutely nothing about Clint before I got here,” Coach D’Antoni mused. “He’s great, he keeps getting better. At some point I’ll have to say he’s leveled off, but for now he just keeps getting better. He’s very gifted, intelligent, he’s a great guy and he’s all for the team.
“We have a lot of guys that help the locker room and he’s that,” D’Antoni continued. “He has the ability to take things we try and teach him and put it in his game real quick. It usually takes months for guys to be able to incorporate stuff the coaches tell them, but Clint picks it up real quick.”
Capela credits the Rockets assistant coaches with helping his game evolve.
“Roy Rogers (Rockets asst. coach) has coached a lot of the centers in the league like (Pistons’ big man Andre) Drummond,” Capela shared. “Before every game, we watch videos. It’s always good to see what I’m doing on the court; so, I can see where I can get better.”
Local Rocket legend turned D’Antoni assistant, John Lucas, has also been instrumental in the improvement.
“He’s helped me a lot with my confidence on the free throws and my confidence overall. I can be way better than I am right now. He pushes me all the time (to get better). He is a huge part of my growth and my confidence.”
The biggest question about Clint Capela’s move into the starting lineup was how he would physically hold up to the bumping and grinding that goes on in the middle. A mere string bean two years ago (approx. 210 lbs.), Capela has added bulk, now tipping the scales at 240 pounds.
“Every year, I feel stronger and stronger in the post,” Clint explained. “I’ve gained 10 pounds of muscle this summer. I feel stronger against the bigger guys because it’s going to be my game in the future. It’s always good to come on the court and feel stronger after a good summer of work. My goal is to gain pounds and get stronger.”
Of course if you’ve watched the Rockets at all this season you have to be impressed with the way Clint Capela and point guard James Harden have collaborated. Harden’s alley oops to Capela have been consistent highlight reel material.
“We’ve been working on it since I got here, almost two years,” Capela said. “It’s getting to be a huge part of our game as a team. It opens up shots for the shooters because it forces the defense to collapse on me, which is our game.”
Harden is pleased with the progress he’s seen in his young teammate.
“The thing I like about Clint is he wants to get better,” Harden opined. “On the court and in the weight room, he just wants to get better. A young guy like that, continues to work and wants to get better, great things will happen for him. We’re all seeing it. I stay on him every single day about never letting up, continuing to work hard, be the best you can be and he’s doing that.”
As the season progresses, expect Clint Capela to continue to improve his game and the Rockets to have more team success.