Capela Trade Was Necessary After Move For Westbrook 

Brandon Scott
February 05, 2020 - 5:57 am

HOUSTON (SportsRadio 610) -- Two of the Rockets’ best three players can’t be bad 3-point shooters.

That became the situation after they traded Chris Paul to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook last summer.

It meant Paul’s 3-point shooting was gone and so was his two-man game with Capela on the pick-and-roll.

With Westbrook expected to take about 20 shots a game, and many of those coming from inside the paint or midrange, Capela became more of a lane stuffer.

He's also more expendable because he doesn't shoot 3s and he's not as good as Westbrook.

For all of the skepticism about the fit with Westbrook and Harden -- two former MVPs who played together in OKC before either won the award -- Capela’s role probably deserved more consideration.

The Rockets traded Capela to the Atlanta Hawks late Tuesday night and acquired forward Robert Covington from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a four-team, 12-player deal. 

Jordan Bell, formerly of the Golden State Warriors, is also joining the Rockets from Minnesota.

ESPN reported the trade as the NBA's most expansive in nearly 20 years. 

As Adam Spolane mentioned, the trade allows the Rockets to double-down on the small ball starting lineup they've played with over the last week while Capela sat out with a heal contusion.

The Rockets are 10-1 without Capela this season and seem to favor the smaller lineups surrounding Harden and Westbrook with shooters. 

The Ringer's Dan Devine pointed out the Rockets were already leaning toward a more isolation heavy offense even before the Paul-Westbrook trade. Then, after 21 percent of the Rockets' possessions were finished by a pick-and-roll participant last season, it's dropped to 15.5 percent this season. 

More from Devine:

"As the Rockets have moved away from his bread-and-butter play, Capela’s production on it has waned, too: He’s gone from the 91st percentile in points scored per pick-and-roll possession finished two seasons ago, to the 65th percentile last season, to the 50th percentile this season.

"If you’re not a pick-and-roll-heavy team anymore, maybe having a nonshooting pick-and-roll center, especially one who’s not a no-doubt-about-it elite finisher in that role, just isn’t as valuable as it used to be. The shift from Paul to Russell Westbrook—from an excellent 3-point shooter whom defenses had to respect at the arc to an awful one whom defenses often sag far off of—has made things a bit cramped in Houston’s offense: The Rockets score 4.5 fewer points-per-100 when Capela and Westbrook share the floor this season than they did when Capela and Paul did last season.

"The pieces don’t fit together as neatly as they used to … or, at least, the way they used to."

Capela was a fan favorite in Houston for nearly six years. He was someone Rockets fans latched onto after turning on Dwight Howard.

Capela was a project when the Rockets drafted him with the No. 25 overall pick in 2014. The team thought enough of him in 2018, after the Rockets fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals, to sign a five-year extension worth $90 million. 

Two years ago, when the Rockets were at their best, Capela seemed worth the money. 

He still has value and his presence will be missed in some aspects.

The Rockets just lost one of their best defenders and it’s no secret their lapses on defense have been problematic this season.

It seems, however, the Rockets are more focused on maximizing Westbrook and what this offense can be. 

This is part of them "figuring it out," like the players talked about before the season.

At that time, general manager Daryl Morey said they were going into the year "feeling really good about a lot of the players -- 10, 11, 12 guys that we think can contribute to a championship team."

That sounded great at the time. 

Reality is the Rockets usually don't go deeper than eight players in a game and rotations tend to tighten up in the postseason.

If one of your two best players shoots 22 times a game but shoots less than 25 percent from 3, as Westbrook does, everyone else logging significant minutes has to be a capable shooter. 

Capela was the odd man out.