Clint Capela and the Numbers

Rockets center Clint Capela, and his coach Mike D’Antoni, believe Capela should be included in the NBA’s annual rite of passage, the All-Star Game, which will be played in Charlotte in just about a month.

How things have changed for the Swiss born, African ancestry Capela. He was a brief holdout this summer before getting a $90 million dollar contract. The contract has interesting incentives. For one, Capela gets a $1 million bonus if the Rockets make it to the Western Conference Finals and $500K if Capela finishes the season with a 30% defensive rebound rate. He also gets $500K if he shoots 65% from the line.

A WCF appearance is yet to be decided and may be in the cards for the Rockets but it is still too early to tell. The Western Conference is deep; it is no longer a two team race. As for the other incentives: Capela’s defensive rebound % is currently 26.8%, down from last year’s 30.8% rate. He is shooting 60% from the line, an improvement from last year’s 56% but shorter than the 65% he needs to pocket more money.

If Capela is trailing in incentive numbers that would make his wallet fatter, why are he and D’Antoni chirping about his “All-Star level”?

Capela’s field goal percentage is lower than last season but he is taking more shots than he has ever attempted, 11.9. Capela doesn’t spread the floor; he’s a pick and roll center who needs a dominant point guard, otherwise he is lost. That said, his two-point % has fallen to its lowest in three seasons.

But he is rebounding at a career high, 12.8, giving the Rockets an astounding 5 offensive rebounds per game. He is blocking nearly two shots a game and his 17.6 points is a career best, nearly 4 points better than last season’s 13.9.

Clint Capela’s offensive rating is 131 and credit James Harden. That is the Clint Capela All-Star problem. The perception that he is a creation of Harden’s pick and roll and step back three game.

What Capela does, he does very well. But he lacks versatility of the big time centers. A drag on his All-Star campaign is his defense. His rating on that end of the court is an average 110, the worst of his career. Last year, supported by Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, his defensive rating was 101. His rookie year, it was 97. Yeah, he’s an offensive threat but his defense has gotten worse.

Capela has (5) 20 rebound games- Detroit, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Portland- and (2) back-to-back 20+ rebound box scores. When the Rockets win, Capela is d-ing everyone up, a rating of 106. When the Rockets lose, his rating is 115.

But his offense is why all eyes are thinking All-Star for Capela. His PER is 25.0. In January, he has been efficient and awesome. 29 points (Warriors), 13 points (Portland), 31 points (Denver). He makes shots at the rim. Jump shooting isn’t his thing, only 13 on the season while 226 layups and 165 dunks attempted.

But All-Stars aren’t judged by their past performances, save that for Most Improved. All-Stars are judged against their peers in the conference.

In the West, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George and Anthony Davis are locks for the All-Star team. It leaves a fight between Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Capela.

Nikola Jokic’s team has a better record than the Rockets which is always factored in when the media votes. Jokic scores more points, attempts more shots including threes, has more rebounds, averages 7.5 assists to Capela’s 1.4, and has a defensive rating of 105. He is a two-way player. Unlike Capela, Jokic isn’t a dunker but a jump shot scorer. His 26.0 PER is second best of his career.

Karl-Anthony Towns takes 16 shots a game, drains 38% of his threes and 83% of his free throws. He averages 22.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, and blocks a similar amount of shots as Capela. Towns defense is better than Capela’s and he has a 23.6 PER.

According to Real Plus-Minus, Nikola Jokic is the #1 ranked center in the league. Karl-Anthony Towns is ranked 7th. And Clint Capela is ranked 49th. It’s everything Capela doesn’t do that’s his Achilles heel and it may just keep him out of the All-Star game.

Why wasn’t an All-Star selection an incentive in the new Capela contract?

Because it wasn’t realistic given Capela’s lack of versatility. He’s a great center for D’Antoni and as long as James Harden is in Houston, Capela will eat. But put Capela on Denver, or the Wolves, and his in the paint that’s all he can do would be exposed. He’s in a perfect system for his skill set but that doesn’t make him an All-Star.

But. It just may make him a champion in 2019.