Are the Houston Rockets Better Without Clint Capela?
It's been three weeks since the Houston Rockets lost their starting center, Clint Capela to a broken leg, which was projected to keep him sidelined for at least four weeks. The team has managed to perform well without him, going 6-2 in his absence, with the two losses coming against the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies.
Is the recent success misleading, or is Houston just fine without their big man?
What Capela Brought to the Team
With superstar James Harden leading the way, the rest of the Rockets' simply fill in the holes as role players. Considering his 18.8% usage rate, that was Capela's specialty, but the center was playing a career-high 24.5 minutes per night, leading to solid averages of 8.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Most of Capela's impact came on the defensive end, where he led Houston with a defensive rating of 104 on the year. The Rockets are still 24th in points allowed per game (106.7), but that has more to do with the poor defense of his teammates combined with an above-average pace of play.
An underrated portion of Capela's game is his work on the pick-and-roll with Harden. Of his 151 made field goals this season, 84 were assisted by Harden. Since 207 of his 236 field goal attempts have been within five feet of the basket, it's also telling as to how much Harden used him in that particular situation.
What About His Replacements?
The biggest beneficiary of Capela’s absence has been Montrezl Harrell, who has played at least 22 minutes in each of the eight games since Capela's injury, including 30-plus minutes of burn in each of his last three contests.
Using the same stats as above, we can see than Harrell has made an easy transition to Capela's role. Harden has assisted 42 of Harrell's 105 baskets, and 79.1% of Harrell's shots are coming from within five feet of the hoop.
Harrell has helped the Rockets improve to 14th in defensive rating over the last eight games, and while they have a stellar 8.4 net rating during this time, it still falls behind the 10.5 net rating the team has produced overall this season.
Nene Hilario was another logical fill-in for Capela, but he's only managed 15.9 minutes of play per game over the last two weeks. He's only averaging 7.0 points during that time, but he is shooting 62.1% from the floor and has allowed Harrell to stay fresh.
Ryan Anderson has also seen some time at center in small lineups and appears to have taken kindly to the change. He's posting 17.4 points and 3.6 three-pointers per game since Capela's injury, which is a boost to his season totals (14.1 and 2.8, respectively).
With team’s such as the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, their stars simply carry such a high workload that it makes it easier to compensate for the loss of role players in small stretches. That has certainly been the case for Houston as their record and many of their offensive stats have stayed very similar over the last three weeks.
However, Capela’s stellar low-post defense and rim protection will be essential come playoff time when teams such as San Antonio and Memphis roll out their big lineups.
Having a starter suffer an injury is never a good thing, but it's allowed Houston to discover more depth. For a team currently sitting fourth in the numberFire team rankings, this is merely a speed bump that they have cruised over with no issue. With that said, they're better defensively with Capela on the floor, and they'll likely need him to advance deep into the Western Conference playoffs.