Clint Capela Emerging as Rockets’ New Secret Weapon in NBA Playoffs

By Brian Kotloff | April 20, 2015

Ten months after he was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, Clint Capela remains the Rockets’ mystery man. On Saturday, he re-introduced himself to the national audience and appeared ready to take on a new role: secret weapon.

Following in the footsteps of Cinderella story Troy Daniels last season, Capela emerged from Houston’s bench after spending the majority of the season in the NBA Development League and made an immediate impact in the Rockets’ first-round playoff series. He posted 8 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 17 minutes, once again catching a team off guard with his fluid athleticism.

All head coach Kevin McHale and the Rockets are asking their bouncy 20-year-old big man to do is the same thing he did time after time after time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season: set a screen, roll to the rim, catch and finish.

Labeled by ESPN as an “ultra-project,” Capela turned heads in RGV by being ready right away to play the role of dive man on one end and rim protector on the other; he averaged a ridiculous 23.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per 36 minutes as the team gradually unleashed him from a minutes limit following an offseason shoulder injury.

And he did it largely by running the game’s simplest play, the pick-and-roll, on repeat, building up reps that would make him ready for moments like Saturday, with Dwight Howard in foul trouble and backup Donatas Motiejunas out for the remainder of the season.

“The timing on his shot blocking is ridiculous. His hands are absurdly good,” Vipers head coach Nevada Smith said at the NBA D-League Showcase in January.

After Houston’s Game 1 win over Dallas, it was McHale raving about the rookie’s progress. From NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury:

“I’ve just liked him,” McHale said. “He’s a good kid. He plays hard all the time. Nothing bothers him. Whether he had a really good last play or a really bad last play, he plays hard on the next play. That’s key. You do that, and you don’t drag all your baggage with you down the floor because you missed a shot, or if you don’t defend? You don’t do that. Miss or make the shot, run down and defend. Get a rebound. Get a blocked shot. He comes back on offense and rolls hard.

“He just does his job well. He’s really a nice, easy guy to like, nice young man. I think we’re fortunate. I think he’s going to be a very good NBA player. He’s got a lot to learn, but the kid’s just so willing to learn.”

Like Daniels a year ago, Capela forced his way into the playoff rotation with a late-season surge. He took the Raptors by surprise while scoring his first four NBA buckets on thunderous dunks last month and posted a combined 18 points (7/8 FG), 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in 34 minutes over Houston’s final two regular season games.

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