James Harden and Eric Gordon have been receiving most of the praise during the Houston Rockets’ 9-3 start to the new season, and rightfully so.
Harden, last season’s MVP runner-up, picked up right where he left off and is averaging 29.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 10.0 assists and 1.8 steals through the 12 games.
Gordon has wildly exceeded expectations while filling in for the injured Chris Paul, averaging a remarkable 22.8 points per contest as Harden’s sidekick.
Although Paul is slated to return sometime soon which could absolutely confuse things, one Rocket in particular has been quietly producing solid individual performances on a nightly basis.
And no, his last name is not Harden or Gordon.
Center Clint Capela ranks third on the team in scoring and has averaged a double-double of 13.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in just 24.8 minutes per contest so far. Amazingly, the 6’10”, 240-pounder has shot 69.4 percent from the field and has had some monster outputs when given extended minutes, posting 19 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, 16 points and 20 rebounds in 32 minutes in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers in October 25 and 22 points and 17 rebounds in 28 minutes in a victory over the Sacramento Kings on October 18.
While he’s still a work in progress, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni believes that the sky’s the limit for his young big man and recently made a huge prediction about him.
“To me, it's just a matter of time," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said, per ESPN’s Tim McMahon. "I'll be very surprised if he doesn't become, if not the best center in the league, one of the best. I'll be shocked.”
Capela will have every opportunity to ascend to superstardom, but D’Antoni also pointed out a few areas in which he needs to improve.
"He can get a little bit better at the foul line, and he can get better with his endurance,” the coach noted. “When he does that, when you say what the modern center should look like, it'll have his picture there.”
Capela was given an opportunity to shine once Dwight Howard left town in the summer of 2015. Since then, he has put in the work to get where he is today.
“He was just kind of thrown into the fire once Dwight left, but he took it and he ran with it," Harden explained. "He's listened, he's worked hard every single day in the weight room, and he just got better. Defensively, he got better. Offensively, he's so mobile and skilled. His touch around the rim has got better. He continues to work.”
Most importantly, Houston's front office views him as a building block for the future.
"The only way [to overcome the Warriors] is to develop near-elite two-way players," general manager Daryl Morey said. "I think Clint has that potential. He's on the way. He took a big step forward last year. It's a lot to put on one guy, but we need one more step, at least.”
When Capela hits restricted free agency next summer, he will undoubtedly receive a lot of interest from other teams. But, Morey made it very clear that money will never be a concern in future negotiations, as they will pay him whatever it takes to keep him.
"We'll have him here as long as he'll have us," Morey said. "He couldn't price himself out.”
While that’s great news for Capela to hear from a personal standpoint, it also must make every Rockets fan smile from ear to ear.