Capela Cementing His Place as a Top NBA Center


In many conversations around the league, Clint Capela is relegated to what I would like to deem “Omer Asik status”. Or, more simply, “Only good because he plays alongside James Harden”. Never talked about among the NBA’s elite, Capela has quietly emerged as one of the best big men in the league. While Harden’s playmaking originally allowed Capela to thrive under the Rockets’ system, he has come into his own in recent years. Right now, he is playing at the highest level of his career. At his age coupled with a lack of injury history, he is one of the most valuable centers in the league.

Rebounding Machine

Even with the addition of “Rebound Stealer” Russell Westbrook this season, Capela is rebounding at a historic rate. For reference, the $25 million per year Steven Adams is averaging his least amount of rebounds in three seasons even after Westbrook’s departure.

Over his last seven games, Capela has at least 19 boards in each contest – a feat last achieved by Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.

Averaging 14.6 per game on the year, Capela sits just behind Andre Drummond for the league lead in rebounds. His success on the glass has caught the eye of teammate PJ Tucker:

Despite the humor in Tucker’s statement, his point is a significant one for the Rockets. With Capela rebounding at such a high rate, Tucker can stay more focused on the perimeter. As the team’s unquestioned best perimeter defender, the Rockets cannot always afford to have Tucker collapse into the paint looking for rebounds. As long as Clint is in the paint grabbing every missed shot that comes his way, Tucker can safely guard shooters on the outside more effectively.

Improved Offensive Game

Early on in his career, Capela struggled to stay on the court. The Rockets play at a fast pace, and Capela’s lack of conditioning forced him to the bench a number of times. In recent years, though, Capela has upped his conditioning program, and has been able to play considerably more minutes. This is especially impressive considering that Capela’s main job on offense is to run the floor as much as possible. The below clip is a bit deceiving at first, but highly indicative of Capela’s ability to get out on the break:

Off the rebound to the fastest player in the league Russell Westbrook, Capela had a decision to make. He could either let Westbrook run toward the basket at full speed for a likely easy layup, or run the floor alongside him to keep the defense honest. He chose the latter. His efforts were rewarded with a put-back slam. Even though he’s not sprinting at full speed here, he demonstrates a willingness to run the court at all times.

Capela’s high energy has allowed him to become one of the best finishers in the league. Over his last three seasons, he’s shooting 64.5% from the field.

Specifically, the Harden-Capela pick and roll is one of the most un-guardable offensive weapons across the NBA. What goes unnoticed, though, is that both players hold equally important roles in this scheme. Capela’s ability to always be in the right place at the right time and set good screens is a skill that many big men do not possess. His quickness and athleticism allows him to roll right past help defenses and catch easy lobs.

Capela – Future All-Star?

Right now in the NBA, there are very few centers who can match Capela’s overall skillset. In the playoffs, he has dominated – yes, dominated – matchups against guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. He is an elite post defender and rebounder, with a well-rounded – albeit limited – offensive game.

Capela has a long way to go, but he is still young and improving every night. Most importantly, he brings 100% effort each and every game, and has rarely dealt with any major injury problems. He is enjoying the best season of his career, and his strong play has helped the Rockets to a nice start. While he is not as big of a name as some of the other young players in the league, he is just as deserving of All-Star and All-NBA consideration if he can keep up this level of play. Once a raw, lanky decoy on both ends of the ball, Capela has come into his own as an elite big man. Moving forward, there is no telling how good he could become.

For now, though, NBA fans can enjoy this hilarious clip demonstrating his skills as an artist:

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About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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