Once upon a time, Chris Paul played on a team with DeAndre Jordan. DeAndre Jordan was the beneficiary of perhaps the most aggressive coach-initiated marketing campaign in NBA history. Doc Rivers made it his personal mission to get the world to accept Jordan as a superstar. Every photoshoot with Paul and Blake Griffin, every magazine story, every interview question and every casual conversation between fans had to include Jordan. It was Rivers’ mandate. And like Pavlov’s dogs, we were conditioned to believe it. The Clippers were built around a big three that was to be treated equally: Paul, Griffin and Jordan.
The Houston Rockets have not built Clint Capela up in the same way. Their marketing capital is tied up in James Harden’s years-long campaign to win an MVP award. Their narrative is built around Chris Paul, analytics and their quest to upend a dynasty. That leaves Capela to do off of the court what he does on it: accept what is given, ignore what must be taken. The irony behind a center doing this on Paul’s team is palpable. As he, Harden and the team they play for all race towards games more important than any Jordan ever played in, Capela is becoming the league’s most accurate DeAndre clone. The differences lie in the ways Capela has adapted his game to fit the era in which he exists.
The raw numbers are never going to favor Capela because Jordan is a simpler player. He is a better rebounder even now, in his tenth season, having vacuumed in 26.5% of available boards in 2017-18 to only 22.2% for Capela. His blocks were higher at their peak as well, reaching a high of 6.2% to Capela’s 5.7% this season. These are the numbers of an ideal defensive center. They also happen to be where Jordan’s effectiveness end. They are where Capela’s begins.
The simple truth behind that relates to where they play on the floor. Jordan spends all of his time near the basket. Capela does not. These are functions of both their teammates and their skill sets. Rivers had fairly traditional rosters with the Clippers. Two big men in Jordan and Griffin. Two small guards in Paul and Redick. A rotating cast of small forwards with varying skill sets. This limited what the Clippers could do defensively. It made their system somewhat bland. The bigs dropped back into the paint. The guards chased their marks over screens. They overloaded the strong side. It led to a lot of blocks and a lot of rebounds. That is what it was designed to do.
It was also in place because Jordan and Griffin are not particularly quick. Early experiments with more aggressive defenses led to open three-pointers when the bigs couldn’t recover and the smalls couldn’t rotate. Jordan took advantage of the scheme he existed within, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that scheme existed to protect him as much as buoy him. DeAndre is not Draymond Green. He can hold his own on the perimeter for an occasional possession. He cannot stay there much longer.
Capela does so on a nightly basis, and it showed in Game 1 of Houston’s series against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Once it became apparent that the Wolves had no intention of maximizing Karl-Anthony Towns on the low block (giving him only seven two-point shot attempts in total), the Rockets unleashed Capela fully on the perimeter. They casually switched guards (often Harden) onto Towns so that he could rest by not chasing shooters, while plopping Capela at the top of the key with a ball-handler who couldn’t get past him. His quickness allows him to play up on those ball-handlers, as he won’t have to recover to catch them on drives. That takes away jumpers as well. Capela is too long to shot over.
He is matchup-proof. Had the Rockets needed him in the post defending Towns, he could have done so. While his rim-protecting numbers fall short of the holy trinity of Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid, allowing 5.1% fewer field goals to go in than an average defender, perA� baclofen online, purchase zithromax. NBA.com, is nothing to snort at. But they didn’t. And Minnesota’s five primary perimeter players (Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford) were limited to less than 41% shooting partially because of it.
Switching isn’t optional in the modern NBA. Good offenses force it, and even the best rim-protectors will be hunted down and dragged onto the perimeter in a seven-game series. Centers defend Stephen Curry as much as they defend Zaza Pachulia. Hiding spots don’t exist anymore. The Clippers never figured that out. The Rockets installed it preemptively, and it worked because of Capela. And the results speak for themselves.
The Rockets finished sixth in defense this year, and they did that with Harden and Ryan Anderson playing almost 4,300 minutes combined. The Rockets went 3-5 with Capela out of the lineup. They went 62-12 with him available. He is a critical component of that defense, yes, but his offense is equally irreplaceable.
Capela once again loses to Jordan in raw numbers. Jordan shot over 70% from the field three times, and while Capela led the league in field goal percentage this season, his 65.2% is a shade below Jordan’s at his peak. He’s not as valuable a screener or roller as Jordan either. Capela finished below Jordan in screen assists even this season, with Paul and Harden on his roster, and while his 1.34 points per possession on rolls were among the league’s best, Jordan reached higher numbers than Capela when he had Paul as his point guard.
But there is one thing Capela is doing better than Jordan ever did when Paul was his teammate. Both Capela and Jordan had a significant source of offensive kryptonite: free throws. Capela made less than 18% as a rookie and less than 38% in his second season. Jordan never reached 49% after his first season with Paul. Both were fouled intentionally to try to force them out of games. Both have improved significantly.
Capela is up to 56% now, a number that yields an expected 1.12 points per possession on a shooting foul. That is too rich for most teams, so they leave him alone. Jordan lost playoff games because of his free throws. If Capela does, at least the fouls that led him there won’t be intentional.
The irony here is that Jordan himself is up to 58%, and it’s too late to matter. Capela is the one who will make deep playoff runs now. Jordan lost Paul, and with him his chance to bury these doubts forever. For years, pundits questioned whether the Clippers could feasibly play Jordan down the stretch of playoff games. His free throws made him an offensive liability. His slower feet made him a target for savvier offense.
That is what makes Capela so special. He brings the same general qualities that Jordan does to the table, but he does so without the weaknesses that played a part in dooming the Lob City era in Los Angeles. He is a more refined update on a prototype that was already pretty damn good, and he is only in his fourth year. The stats provided for Jordan came, generally, during his prime. Capela is still a few years away from his. He is set to be the player Jordan always should have been. All of the strengths. None of the weaknesses.
And even if the Rockets aren’t blasting that out to anyone who will listen, it needs to be recognized as the Rockets pursue either a championship or a free agency whale. If they beat the Warriors and ultimately win the championship, they won’t have done it with two stars and a cadre of role players. They are a three-star team.
And if they dip into free agency next summer and pursue LeBron James or Paul George, they won’t just have Harden and Paul to sell those guys on. They’ll have Capela, on a dirt cheap cap hold, as well. Teams need Hardens and they need Pauls to get into the championship conversation, but they need Capelas to actually win it. He isn’t a franchise alterer in the way that those two are, but if we all made the silent agreement to treat Jordan as a third star for the Clippers, we have to make the same concession on Capela.