Checking in on the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard Maintenance Plan

I wrote back in late July that Clint Capela, also known as the Houston Rockets’ Dwight Howard Maintenance Plan, was the second biggest key to the Rockets’ 2015-2016 season.  I wrote that for Houston to go far, they’d need Howard fresh for the postseason.  After an embarrassing start, the Rockets have turned things around enough of late to where discussion with an eye towards basketball in May is more relevant than discussion about the lottery.  To that end, it’s a good time to check in on how Clint and Dwight have been doing.

While Howard was recently cleared to participate in back to backs, he will still be held out of “certain games” with an eye towards the long term.  It’s the approach I was hoping for.  Howard has appeared in 15 of the team’s games, averaging 33 minutes per contest.  While his points are at a near-career low at just 13.5, his 12.7 boards are his highest since 2011 when he might have been the third best player in the league.  In fact, his rebounds per 36 minutes and total rebounding percentage are both at their highest as well, since that season.  Howard’s 1.9 blocks are also the highest he’s averaged since 2012, as are his blocks per 36 minutes and total block percentage.  In terms of basic statistics, the maintenance plan thus far has done its job in keeping Howard fresh and effective.

As for Capela, the surprise even bigger than his improvement is that he’s been inserted into the starting lineup in lieu of Terrence Jones.  With Donatas Motiejunas back in the lineup, however, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long Capela will maintain that spot.  On November 10, our friends over at The Dream Shake honed in on Capela:

The numbers bear it out: through [November 10th], he’s averaging 1.18 points per possession as the roll man in the PnR, scoring on 63.6% of his rolls, putting him in the 79th percentile in the league. Part of the reason that he’s so effective is he’s been insane at finishing: The Swiss Roll is shooting 79.4 percent from the floor, leading the NBA, among players with at least 11 attempts[.]

A month later, he’s still shooting 62% from the field, with 15 alleyoop field goal attempts on the year.  Plays like the one seen below are what make Capela so efficient and how he can make an impact offensively on this team for the remainder of the Harden era.

Per 36 minutes, Capela is averaging 12.2 boards and 2.4 blocks.  His block percentage of 5.7 is actually higher than Dwight Howard’s 4.5 rate.  Capela’s rebounding percentage, in fact, is 14th in the entire league among players who have played at least 15 minutes per game in 15 games.  (Howard’s is fourth).

Capela has twice this season played over 30 minutes in a game.  In those two games he went for 18 and 11 and 16 and 14.  And with Capela on the floor this year, Houston is a +2.8; with Capela on the bench, Houston is a -9.9.

Capela is no longer just a prospect.  He’s an integral part of this team and its future at center for the rest of this decade.  Until Howard moves on, Capela is a necessary luxury to keep Howard fresh and effective; after Howard’s departure he will be the team’s anchor.

If the 2014 NBA draft were re-selected, only Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart would definitively be selected over Capela.  There’s a case to be made for a few others, depending on your team’s needs, but the point is, Daryl Morey got long term rim protection coupled with efficient offensive production at the very bottom of the draft (#25).  That’s incredible, incredible value.

Despite narratives regarding Howard’s decline, the Rockets will need Dwight if they hope to seriously contend again next season.  But in the event of an ugly divorce, or to limit mileage on their investment, the Rockets have Capela to depend on.

I mused in that July post whether Howard, in a contract year, would be willing to take a step back, both in minutes and games played.  Not only in complying with the plan, but in taking Capela under his wing, Howard has answered all of those questions.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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