Film-Study: Breaking down the Capela/Howard lineup
The Houston Rockets have been searching for the perfect stretch-four to pair alongside Dwight Howard in the front-court, and they may have finally found their answer.
Second-year center Clint Capela is not the prototypical 3-and-D wing or the slashing point-guard the Rockets desire. He can’t space the floor and disallow the opposing defense from overloading James Harden’s side on isolation plays. He can’t knock down the corner three or take his defender off the dribble. He may only have the optimum skillset and length for an up-and-coming starting center, but he’s proven to form an effective big man duo alongside Dwight Howard. Well, according to the stats.
Dwight Howard and Clint Capela have shared the floor for 12 games, sporting a 9-3 record, and 115 minutes overall. This duo is dominating teams on both ends of the floor, outscoring opponents by 20.2 points per 100 possessions (best of any Rockets two-man lineup playing at least 50 minutes this season).
But, in comparison to the eye-test, the lineup is creating problems for the Rockets offense. The Rockets employ a read-and-react offense. It’s predicated on movement, motion, and unpredictability of its players; taking advantage of the miscommunication and mistakes it baits defenders into making. Ball movement and proper spacing create opportunities for high percentage attempts from three and around the basket. With the two-big lineup, the Rockets are struggling to find the corner threes they seek and incorporate the high pick-and-roll to jumpstart the offense.
For example, in this offensive possession James Harden looks to attack early in the shot-clock. The Rockets first instinct on offense is to find the big man who’s sealed the lane, open shooter on the wing or corners, or attack the basket without a rim-protector present. All the Rockets ran down the floor to see if they can create easy offense, but the Clippers recovered well. But that’s not the problem. Look closely inside the lane, where Howard and Capela both gravitate towards.
When Capela played with the second-unit, his size and length allowed him to finish well inside and at one point was second in the NBA in field-goal percentage. However now, alongside Dwight, Capela is playing the forward and must clear the paint. His responsibilities include setting screens for cutters, positioning himself to set a flare screen for corner shooters, or preparing for dump-off passes inside. He’s not a shooter, and thus Harden has an even tougher time finding access to the middle of the floor or space to make an open pass.
The lineup works under some situations, particularly on the defensive end. When Howard and Capela are manning the front-court, the Rockets grab 85.6% of defensive rebounds (would set a league record if it continues). Also, to help stop the opposing team’s fast break, the Rockets grab 44.7% of offensive rebounding opportunities (by far the best in the NBA the past 15 years).
The tandem is dominating the glass and allowing the Rockets to play a more aggressive style of pick-and-roll defense, trapping and doubling the ball-handler with a capable rim-protector defending the paint. They force contested jumpers and their added length allows them to incorporate an opportunistic defensive scheme, one that causes tough shots and turnovers that ignite their potent transition attack. In fact, this is how the Rockets illustrate their incredibly high net-rating. When one big rebounds the opposing team’s miss, the other big is running the floor and being rewarded.
In this example, Clint Capela gets the offensive rebound and Dwight Howard gets the easy dunk in transition. The process starts with a contested three-point miss by the Clippers. Dwight boxes out DeAndre Jordan, allowing Capela to get the defensive rebound. Dwight immediately takes off towards the offensive end, with Capela giving the ball up to Patrick Beverley. Patrick Beverley surveys the defense and sees Dwight run past two Clippers big men. He doesn’t have a great angle, so he gives it up to Trevor Ariza who makes the quick pass to Dwight for the dunk. Attacking the defense in transition and punishing opposing team for their miscommunication and mistakes is Houston Rockets basketball; this lineup exemplifies that.
The Dwight Howard and Clint Capela lineup has its share of positives and negatives, but it can be characterized as this: a lineup that disrupts continuity and is good for small runs, but not sustainable over an extended period of time and in the playoffs. Despite my definition, the Rockets have had much success using this pair, possessing the seventh best defense and fourth best offense in the league during the month of December. It remains to be seen whether or not Coach J.B. Bickerstaff keeps this starting lineup in place for the rest of the season, but he’s not reverting back to Terrence Jones or Donatas Motiejunas anytime soon. “Quite a while,” Coach Bickerstaff said regarding how long he’d expect Clint Capela to be the starting power forward. With that in mind, maybe the Rockets have indeed found the ‘power-forward’ they’ve long sought to play next to Dwight Howard.
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