Why The Choice Between Clint Capela and Dwight Howard Is An Easy One

By Harden's Intellect on May 25, 2015

A lot of people are wondering what the Rockets will do at the Center position when Dwight inevitably walks this summer. There people calling for Al Horford, and rightfully so. Houston GM Daryl Morey would be foolish not to pull out every trick in his bag to attempt to bring Horford in. That being said, Horford is a long shot and it would be in everyone's best interest to think more realistically. Some people feel that failing to get Horford and letting Dwight walk would be a disaster, but is that necessarily true?

Is there really not a better option than bringing back a big source of disfunction (right or wrong) in the locker room? Is Clint Capela chopped liver? The question was tougher than you might think, and warranted a deep dive. After looking over the film and the numbers, the Rockets' best option at center, other than Horford, is truly their young backup in Clint Capela. Casual fans around the NBA  might not be aware of him, but the long, bouncy, 22 year old Swiss big man was the lone bright spot in the soul consuming blackhole of sadness that was the Houston Rockets' 2016 season.

Capela came into the league as a 20 year old who looked lost, spending most of his 2015 rookie season in the D-league, but after taking giant literal and figurative leaps throughout his first season. eventually cracked the rotation, and even contributed in the playoffs, flashing freakish, raw, unadulterated athleticism that very few big men possess.  After making note of his monumental improvement last year, everyone expected Capela to make another big leap last coming into this season of great expectations. He did not disappoint.

When you look at the resumes of Dwight Howard and Clint Capela, the conversation between the two shouldn't be particularly close. One is a hall of famer, the other is a raw, young, and skinny center with a lot to learn. However, if you watch the games, pay attention to the flow, and look at the numbers, there's no evidence to suggest that their on court production wasn't at the very least, similar last year. On top of their similar production, when factoring the age discrepancy and the money needed to keep Dwight, there shouldn't be a question about who's the better option to start at center next season.

This opinion seems controversial, but sometimes the truth spawns a controversy. Let's delve into some numbers.

Clint Capela was one of the team's best players last year, and led the team in net rating at a cool 3.1, which is an impressive feat for such a young player. Dwight Howard on the other hand, had a net rating of only 0.2, and got worse after the all star break. Obviously, net rating doesn't tell the whole story, or even half of it. No single number can do that. While no single number can tell the story, a plethora of numbers can.

Just to get a better understanding of Dwight vs Capela, here's a look at Capela's on/off metrics from Basketball Reference:

Here's Dwight's on/off numbers:

When you compare, you pretty immediately notice that Capela has an edge over Dwight in almost every category. The key numbers to look at are rebounding and defense, the two areas where Dwight is supposed to be one of the best in the league at. Capela has a significant edge in both of those categories. The team's defense, was 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Capela off the floor, and only 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse with Dwight off the floor. The team also rebounded the ball as a whole better, though Dwight has an edge as a defensive rebounder. 

Now, on/off numbers and team stats are all well and good, but they can some trick you into ignoring a player's actual raw production. However when you look at it, Capela might have an edge in that area too. The difference in PER (an all-in-one stat that measures a players per minute production in box score statistics) is negligible with both men sitting comfortably in the 18s (15 is the league-average). 

Even when you adjust for pace, the gap is incredibly close. 

Dwight Howard averaged 21 points, 2.1 blocks,18 rebounds, and 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per 100 possessions and .138 Win Shares per 48 minutes. 

Clint Capela averaged 18.1 points, 3.1 blocks, 16.5 rebounds,  1.6 assists and 2.0 steals per 100 possessions and .144 Win Shares per 40 min. 

So the numbers say that Clint has an edge over Dwight in terms of how the team plays with him, and they say that the individual production is essentially a wash. Even if you're not a fan of advanced statistics, there's still a case to be made that Capela is better suited for this team. Let's discuss the fit, chemistry, and the good old "eye test". 

Capela is a monster roll man (84th percentile per synergy) after setting screens. He's arguably a better roll man than Dwight Howard (71st percentile per synergy). 

Clint flashes high level intelligence as a roll man. Watch him run to set this screen, expertly read the defense, slip the screen, and explode off the floor for the dunk:

Throughout, the season it looked as though Capela was more than willing to set a screen or two,  which has been a known issue with Dwight since Los Angeles. Dwight's body language when setting screens was less than ideal and gave off the impression that he didn't want to set them. The numbers back up what the body language doctors diagnosed; Clint registered almost 10 more possessions as the roll man than Dwight. That's a pretty staggering difference, especially when you account for the minute discrepancy. Howard logged nearly 800 more minutes than Capela this year. 

When you have a pick and roll monster like James Harden, it's probably best to have an athletic big who sets screens with no questions asked, a trait that Capela possess. While it could be that Dwight's unwillingness could be due to Harden and Howard's broken relationship, that point is, for better or worse, it's irrelevant because Harden isn't going anywhere. 

That leads to this final point: we've heard numerous times from people within the organization that Capela and Harden get along quite well. You see them laugh around and support each other all the time publicly, so that would certainly make sense. Harden's on-court body language is much better with Capela on the floor. Why wouldn't the guy that Harden plays best with be a better option?

To conclude, if Clint is 8 years younger, will cost approximately $20 million less, provides the same per minute production, won't clash with Harden, and the team played better with him on the floor last year. It seems as though the choice is easy. Clint Capela provides Dwight's on-court impact without the off-court drama. 

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