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Former Rockets' Coach Praises Capela's Development

J.B. Bickerstaff says he's not surprised to see Clint Capela turn into a great player

January 15, 2019 - 1:53 pm

By Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)

HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610)- Mike D'Antoni didn't try to sugar coat it. Losing Clint Capela for an extended amount of time will be tough for the Rockets to overcome.

"30 to 33 minutes of all-star level basketball," the Rockets coach said Monday. "You can’t make that up."

Capela will reportedly miss 4-6 weeks after an MRI revealed ligament damage to his right thumb. D'Antoni said Monday that the Rockets center will seek a second opinion, but around Toyota Center Monday nobody seemed hopeful the diagnosis would change. 

"Other guys are going to have to step up and play and play well," D'Antoni said. "We’ll have to figure out different ways, and we gotta get Eric (Gordon) back, that’ll help, and get Chris (Paul) back will help soon as we can, but you’re not going to replace Clint. We’ll just try to do as well as we can. I still think we have enough, but (we need) to hang in until he gets back.”

Playing without Capela for the first time all season, the Rockets beat Memphis 112-94 Monday night. Even though his team was unable to take advantage, Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said before the game that the Rockets aren't the same team when Capela is out of the lineup.

“He has a huge impact on the offensive end, in particular with his ability to roll to the basket and the help that he forces because of his ability to roll to the basket. The danger that he creates even late at the rim because he is such a lob threat it keeps your defense sucked in a little longer than you would like, and then that open up three-point shooting which is obviously a strength of theirs and is one of their primary weapons. The defensive end, his ability to challenge shots and block shots, protect the paint for them, so he is obviously missed."

Bickerstaff knows Capela about as well as any coach in the NBA. He was the Rockets lead assistant when Capela was a rookie, and became Rockets head coach after Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into the next season. Now, after being away from the Rockets for three years, Bickerstaff says he isn't surprised to see Capela playing at an all-star level.

"Obviously it was going to take a little bit of time, but he spent a lot of time in the D League that first year here, but then we brought him up and he played in the playoffs for us."

After playing in just 12 games during the regular season, Capela played in all 17 of the Rockets playoff games in 2015, and while he was hardly the reason that team advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals, Bickerstaff says what Capela showed in that run sealed his value with the organization.

"The combination that he had with James, James’ ability to get him the ball, and his understanding was I’m going to run fast, I’m going to set these screens on James, I’m going to roll hard, and if I don’t get it I’m going to run back and set another screen on James, and I’m going to roll hard again, so the impact that he had just off his natural speed, his work ethic, his intelligence and understanding of who he was you knew that he’d have an opportunity to be a really good basketball player."

Capela was a skinny 20-year old when he arrived from Switzerland four years ago, but on Monday Bickerstaff lauded Capela's approach back then as a big reason why he's excelled in his NBA career. 

"One of the things we always talk about early in his career was Clint new exactly who he was when he stepped in the gym. A lot of times with young guys they’re searching to be something that they may not ever become, but Clint from day one knew who he was, and he just continued to build on that and then he added things to it.

"He always knew where his floor was, and he never went below that trying to be somebody that he wasn’t, so that gave him confidence that he could take steps forward without struggling through some things trying to do different things that maybe he wasn’t capable of, but the confidence that you see him playing with, and just the maturity, the conversation that we have with him now is completely different just as man-to-man, it’s different than it was when he first got here. You can tell he’s grown and he’s matured and he’s grown in confidence as well."

After signing a five-year, $90 million contract over the summer, Capela is averaging a career-high 17.6 points per game and grabbing a career-high 12.6 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 31 points against the Denver Nuggets January 7.