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Clint Capela is awesome, he might not start and that’s OK

If the Swiss Roll improves, so, too, will the Rockets

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, another year, another time where I write about how good Clint Capela could and should be. What can I say? The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

By now, if you’re reading this, you probably already know the basics about Capela. You know he played 12 regular season games his rookie year before becoming a surprisingly vital part of the Rockets bench in their run to the Western Conference Finals. You know that last year he often started alongside Dwight Howard after the team forgot how to rebound through the first 15 games. You know that his career free throw percentage is very bad, but you may not know that it is below 40% bad. It is. Career 36%.

You may also know, though, that the 2015-2016 Houston Rockets never looked more alive than when Clint Capela got to play with the starting lineup. In writing about Dwight Howard’s legacy in Houston, I said that his time on the floor in his final season turned the Rockets’ “general gameplay into a blistering muck.” Capela did the opposite. Capela, I think, somehow made that Rockets team — that horrible, disappointing, frustrating Rockets team — fun.

That assertion gets backed up by the numbers and by the eyes. James Harden, for better or for worse, clearly trusted Clint Capela, likely because Capela knew he was most effective when he was rolling to the basket and making rim runs on a fast break. The numbers say Clint shot 60 percent last year and also sported an offensive rating of 114 (cue some commenters telling me they don’t like ORtg as a stat).

And the numbers don’t really stop there. In trying to get myself excited after such a down year, I looked up Capela’s minutes from last year to see if they would correlate to my gut feeling. Clint played in 77 games last season, and because J.B. Bickerstaff largely didn’t know what he was doing, he played less than 15 minutes in 24 of those games. Our record in those games: 7-17, 10 of those losses by double digits.

Just for fun, I wanted to see what happened when Capela played 20+ minutes. He did so 31 times. Our record then? 20-11, with 8 wins by 10+ and only 3 losses by double digits. The Rockets were flat better when Clint got more time. But don’t trust me. Don’t trust my numbers (seriously, I am not a guy who is good with numbers). Trust the tape.

Add to that Capela, who came into the league thin as a rail, has put on 10-12 pounds of muscle just this summer, and he looks much fitter.

Which brings us to the interesting fact that somehow Clint Capela might not be the starter in Houston come opening night, and I’m torn. Part of me thinks this sounds absurd given just how different the Rockets were last year with him on the floor, and part of me understands Mike D’Antoni’s hesitation. Nene is good, and the Olympics and preseason has been some of his best basketball in years.

It really is, weirdly, a matter of taste for Coach Pringles. Nene is certainly a better passer, but he can’t run like Capela can (D’Antoni has also mention Capela needs to step his stamina up). Clint can dunk on a lot more people, but I doubt Nene misses nearly as many layups. Nene’s feel for the game might benefit the second unit more, but a pick and roll of Eric Gordon and Clint Capela off the bench is enticing, nearly intoxicating. Adding James Harden’s input to this equation may make things a little clearer. He seems to enjoy playing with Nene, and we all know the Beard will get plenty of time to do that in just how many minutes he plays, but he also loves throwing a lob or two, and Capela is always there for that.

Regardless, this needs to be another year where Clint Capela takes another step forward. We as fans have been lucky in that Clint generally does this. He was drafted as a project. Now he’s an asset, and is well on his way to becoming something. Let me submit to you that this, especially in this era of the Houston Rockets, is not particularly common. I only feel a little uncomfortable saying that Clint Capela has a chance to become a special player. He just has to keep doing what he has done best since being drafted: improving.