Clint Capela is not Troy Daniels.
Daniels became the Rockets' "who's that guy who just won them a playoff game?" back in 2014 with his late-game bombing. He had a chance to cement that star turn early last year, but his inability to do much other than chuck threes on the court sent him packing to Minnesota (thanks for Corey Brewer, Flip!). Troy was an undrafted free agent rookie, and although he set the D-League aflame, he was never expected to amount to much in the NBA. He's in Charlotte now, in case you're curious.
Clint Capela was the 25th overall pick in the draft last year. He was picked ahead of K.J. McDaniels, but still was not expected to contribute much. He was seen as a block of clay, and, frankly, lots of folks were surprised that he came straight to the NBA rather than staying in Europe for a year or two. He spent loads of time in the D-League, and impressed everyone. Despite his string bean frame, he was able to hold his own and rebound and block his fair share of shots (9.7 boards and 3 blocks per game in RGV).
He averaged a per-36 double-double in the playoffs. The Rockets were worse when he was on the floor, but not that much worse (the rebounding and defense numbers went down, but the block and assist rates were up), and, considering he was uniformly playing when Dwight Howard wasn't, seeing only a slight dropoff is good.
So what does his 127-minute string of quality minutes against the best teams in the league mean? He's a lot more ready than anyone would have predicted this time last year. Here's what Colin Ainsworth wrote when he did the Swiss Roll's season recap:
That, to me, is the most important part of Clint Capela's season. For all of his dunks and blocks (and missed free throws), this, to me, mattered more. In that same game, the Warriors tried to feed David Lee with Capela on him, assuming the rookie couldn't hold the veteran. Lee couldn't do a thing. They also tried to pick on Capela off the pick and roll, having him switch onto Steph in an isolation situation. Curry hits that shot. He ends the Warriors half with a bang, swinging momentum that the Rockets almost overcame in Game 1. They did this a few plays in a row, thinking Capela couldn't stay with Curry. But he could! That was the thing! He contested well. He kept his feet moving. He was all over Curry. Yeah, Steph makes that shot, but he does so in spite of Capela, not because of him.
If you were to build the ideal defensive center from scratch for today's NBA, it would look a whole lot like Capela. He's 21 years old, 6-11 with a 7-5 wingspan. Like Colin said, he's got great feet and fantastic touch around the basket. He's already a gifted defender, and another full offseason learning team defense should help him make a leap.
When DraftExpress profiled him, they noted his consistent ability to finish. That was one of the more striking things to watch in the playoffs: while Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard kept missing layup after layup on putbacks, Capela shot 67.7 percent in the postseason. If that was his number in the full season, he would have finished second behind DeAndre Jordan, and leagues ahead of actual second-place finisher Jonas Valanciunas (57.2 percent).
The Rockets are crazy deep up front. Dwight should play around 30 minutes a game, and Donatas Motiejunas (capable of playing the 4 and 5) and Terrence Jones will probably play around 25 minutes apiece. There are 96 minutes in a frontcourt to divvy up, and that leaves just 16 per game for the Swiss Roll (and that's being very generous. Donuts should play more like 30).
But to assume no one gets injured, as a Rockets fan and writer, is a fool's errand. In the eventuality that is a Dwight knee flareup or D-Mo's back acting up, Capela will be the one thrust into a far expanded role. Instead of Joey Dorsey starting, it might be him. But give me an uber-athletic, high-motor, lengthy, talented finisher any day of the week, and he can be productive in a high pick-and-roll out of the box.
The Rockets got a good one in Clint Capela. The league learned his name last spring, but that was only the beginning.