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Rockets 2017-2018 player previews: Clint Capela

What’s in store for the free agent-to-be?

NBA: Preseason-Shanghai Sharks at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela walked into this league a boy, and his potential is finally starting to sprout. Now in his fourth season, Capela is a grown man, and he is going to be a major factor for the Houston Rockets this year.

He averaged 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season in his first full season as a starter in just 23.9 MPG. He just turned 23 this offseason and built a lot of muscle this offseason. The 6-foot-10 Capela was 222 pounds when he came into the league in 2014; he’s 240 pounds going into this season.

Capela’s scoring average grew last season in large part to being on the receiving end of many of James Harden’s alley-oops. His chemistry and pick-and-roll play with Harden is what makes the offense multi-dimensional.

The bread and butter of the Rocket offense is the three-point shot — we all know that — but Capela’s ability to play the pick-and-roll game is just as essential. It is just as dangerous because Capela dunks are automatic. Three is greater than two, so that’s why the Rockets are going to take more shots from beyond the arc than any team in NBA history this year. But if the team goes for two, they are going to go as close to the basket as possible, slamming dunks and sinking lay-ups. Capela will be the main beneficiary of this in the offense, just as he was last year, when he was among the league leaders in shooting percentage.

One of the players that Capela can compare himself to is Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Like Jordan, Capela is a rim protector, but he also has been working on a post-up game that will add another unstoppable facet to the Rocket offensive attack.

Seen in the clip above, Capela can add value in multiple ways for Houston. He can block shots, create space using the pick-and-roll, and he can clean up the boards for rebounds. His defensive game is his weakness, but his added bulk should improve that part of his game and make him a difficult opponent to score on.

Other than the defensive upper hand going to Jordan, Capela has him beat in one category: free-throw shooting.

Coming into the league, Capela was one of its worst free-throw shooters. He’s not an excellent free-throw shooter at 53 percent, but it is certainly better than his 2015-16 mark at 37.9 percent.

The scariest part about Capela’s game is that he is still developing. At just 23, he is still growing as a human and a basketball player. To see the strides he made last season is important, because it could hopefully show a similar trajectory. Capela can be one of the best centers in the game at the rate he is currently on, and he is going to be crucial for this team. His numbers will get better. His stamina will increase to allow him to play more minutes on the court. Capela is still grinding and he’s on a path to being one of the dominant centers in the league.

One of the reasons Jordan was so effective was because he had a point guard named Chris Paul. I’m not sure if you heard, but this Paul guy is a Rocket now. And James Harden, the league’s leader in assists last year, is going to keep lobbing to him constantly.

Capela has the benefit of playing with two of the best point guards on the planet, and that will significantly help his development.

He’s also going into a contract year and is testing the market as a restricted free agent this summer. Capela’s play this season will mean a lot more in the long run than any play of his so far. It could be the difference between him getting a max contract offer and languishing in restricted free agent limbo like Tristan Thompson, Eric Bledsoe and Donatas Motiejunas before him.

The only thing holding Capela back is his injury history. He missed 17 games last year with a broken fibula and five the previous year. If he can stay healthy, Capela is going to be huge.