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NBA Daily: Clint Capela Playing Key Role As Rockets Take Flight

Clint Capela is playing at a high level and could be the determining factor in how far Houston goes in the playoffs, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Houston Rockets are on the cusp of reaching the milestone most had expected them to reach early in the season. When the Rockets acquired star guard Chris Paul in the offseason, the franchise did so with the postseason in mind. The goal is to win a championship, of course, but doing so would most likely require them to first confront the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the postseason. With both teams now up 3-1 in their respective semi-conference series, that outcome reasonably seems assured.

Having Paul, in addition to James Harden, this year’s presumed MVP, the hope was that another star could help carry the load. The third leg in the trio of success for the Rockets is arguably center Clint Capela. Harden and Paul both went out of their way to make it clear how critical Capela’s contributions are to the team’s overall success.

“You know, every single night, I mean, he has our back. And it feels good to have somebody have our back like he does. And so, he doesn’t get a lot of credit for it. He doesn’t, you know, ask for a lot,” Harden said. “He just goes out there and does his job every single night. And, you know, as a result, you know, six blocks tonight and 20 altered shots. That’s what he does.”

Utah Jazz Center Rudy Gobert, the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, is known for being a defensive menace at the rim. However, it was Capela who had two blocks on star rookie guard Donavon Mitchell and one on Gobert with less than five minutes to go in Game 4 to keep the Jazz in check and prevent them from making a comeback.

Capela put up 12 points, 15 rebounds, six blocks, two steals and two assists. Paul also brought up Capela’s defense and the “20 altered shots” Harden mentioned.

“So, when guys go in there and they see Clint, I think Donovan [Mitchell] drove one time and he saw Clint and he tried to pass it. And it’s a steal. I got the steal. That doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” Paul said.

Paul led the team with a triple-double in Game 4, going off for 27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists with two steals and one block in 35 minutes of action. But Capela’s presence helps to create more opportunities for Paul, who scored from mid-range frequently. Paul directly attributed much of his own direct success to the nuanced, hard to notice impact that Capela has on the game

“So, it shows how selfless Clint is, you know what I mean? It’s a lot of those midrange shots that we get because Gobert doesn’t want him to dunk,” Paul said.

Capela’s presence and contributions have helped to occupy Gobert’s attention, who can be an absolute terror to opposing teams. In the playoffs, Capela is averaging 90.6 percent of his points in the paint, per nba.com. Capela is key to the offense by constantly being involved in pick and roll with Harden and Paul and is always a lob threat, which forces opponents to stay close and force rotations when necessary. This simple action keeps the pressure on Gobert who has to try to prevent both the guard from scoring while keeping track of Capela. As good as Gobert is defensively, even he will get caught in between assignments, leaving Utah’s defense vulnerable to Houston’s explosive offense.

In addition, Capela did a good job last night expending extra energy running the floor and getting to the basket to score on the fast break.

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni summarized Capela’s impact succinctly.

“He just makes a difference on both ends,” D’Antoni stated.

For this series, Capela is averaging 15 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game. Capela has been effective on the boards and blocking shots despite the increased attention and focus the Jazz have placed on him. Capela made it clear that that attention won’t stop him.

“I’m still able to do what I do, get rebounds and be here. So, I’m just going to keep doing it consistently. This is what I need,” Capela stated. “I enjoy doing it.”

D’Antoni states that Capela has the physical tools and the mindset to be a force on the court.

“That’s just Clint having a nose for the ball, putting energy out there and just going after it. Sometimes there’s no explaining. It’s just he went after it and got it. And he’s long and quick, and he’s good,” D’Antoni stated.

Beyond the rebounds and blocks themselves, Capela sets the tone on defense, which has been critical to Houston’s success so far.

“You know, and even if the three ball isn’t working, our defense was phenomenal,” Harden stated. “I mean, offensively, like I’ve said before, the three balls are just a bonus. You know, that’s extra. But the way we get it done is our defense. And we’ve been doing that.”

D’Antoni went further, stating that Capela’s defense and rim protection is very much in the mind of the team’s other players.

“With Clint back in the back, he just does a great job of giving guys confidence that he’s going to raise some stuff at the rim,” D’Antoni stated.

The Rockets have an opportunity to close out the Jazz at home in Houston in Game 5. If they do that, they will have time to fully shift their focus and attention to the Warriors. Based on his current play, expect Capela to be a major contributor in that potential series. Whether he can maintain this level of play or surpass could be the determining factor in whether or not the Rockets can overcome the reigning champs.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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