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Clint Capela’s numbers are up, but he’s not yet an All-Star

After a slow start to the season, the fifth-year pro has been putting up big numbers on offense, but he’s also slipped in some key areas.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

After a preseason plagued by injury, Clint Capela started the season a step slow, getting thoroughly outplayed by Anthony Davis in an opening night drubbing. Seemingly emblematic of the entire roster’s general malaise, Capela missed bunnies, got outworked, and looked as though he’d regressed as a switch defender. It was a far cry from the springy 23-year-old that tore through the playoffs only a few months earlier, and Rockets’ fans were understandably worried.

However, while many hoped that route was the reality check the organization needed, Capela may be the lone player it was a clear turning point for. After showing flashes the next few contests whilst getting back his timing and conditioning, Capela has turned into a monster, averaging 19.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.6 assists on 69% shooting in the 17 games leading up until last night’s loss to the Jazz.

Even with the slow start, Capela is putting up career-highs across the board. He’s even creeping closer and closer to the 65% free throw percentage incentive in his contract that increases his earnings closer to the 5 years, $90 million reported (which is still a steal at the rate Capela is playing).

And with Chris Paul still working through the trials and tribulations that have beset him to start the year, one can question, for the first time in his young career, whether Capela is the Rockets’ second-best player.

A more pertinent question, however, is whether or not Capela’s dominant play is worthy of an all-star nod?

Unfortunately, the answer is likely a no. The Rockets’ disappointing record severely diminishes any chances of a non-bearded all-star, and quite frankly, Capela’s per-minute production isn’t greatly improved from last year. He’s just playing more.

Nevertheless, with plenty of time till the voting period begins, there are a few ways Capela can play himself into the conversation, with the notable areas being defensive rebounding and defending on switches.

While Capela is registering a career-high in rebounds per game, it’s simply due to a minutes increase, as his defensive rebound rate is down over 6-percent from last season. Teams are making a concerted effort to pull him away from the rim when they attack by having him switch onto floor spacers, hindering his ability to clean up misses for his oft-undersized squad.

If Capela can return to the 30-percent rebound rate he attained last year (which triggers yet another incentive in his contract, by the way), his All-Star chances would grow exponentially. And considering the Rockets’ currently rank 28th in rebounds per game after a middle-of-the-pack finish last season with a similarly vertically-challenged roster, improvement in this area should do wonders in helping the team find some semblance of consistency.

Perhaps more important, though, is Capela returning to his prior self in defending guards on switches. Per Synergy Sports, compared to last season, he has dropped from the 60th percentile to the 17th for defending ball handlers in pick-and-roll and has fallen from the 60th to the 45th percentile in defending isolations.

Much of that decline is due to a combination of poor team defense and small sample size theater, but regardless, Capela simply hasn’t defended guards at the level he’s capable of. Considering opposing teams attack Capela significantly more than any other Rocket, and the two aforementioned play types (pick-and-roll & isolation) constitute 60 percent of his defensive possessions, cleaning up those two areas would do wonders for the team’s bottom-five defensive rating.

If Capela returns to a level he displayed in the playoffs in either of those two areas, expect to hear his name floated in All-Star conversations on your favorite NBA podcast come January. The Rockets could sure use it too.