The Definitive Clint Capela/Dwight Howard Comparison

Inherent within the decision over whether to re-sign Dwight Howard is the comparison to Clint Capela, Howard’s younger, cheaper likely successor.  Capela came of age during the playoffs of his rookie season, landing a surprise spot in the rotation and impressing.  I thought he’d be a major key to Houston’s season–and he very much was early on–before fizzling later in the year.  I thought it would benefit us to take a look at the numbers of each player this past season.

  Capela Howard
minutes played 1561 31092
FG% .575 .582
FT% .359 .568
ORB/100 6.4 5.2
DRB/100 10.3 13.4
TRB/100 16.7 18.6
BLK/100 3.2 3.0
TOV/100 2.0 4.4
PF/100 6.4 4.8
ORtg 112 110
DRtg 103 99
ORB% 14.3 11.7
DRB% 23.2 29.1
TRB% 18.7 20.6
TOV% 10.9 16.9
USG% 16.4 23.0

A couple of things jump out here.  Capela was better on the offensive boards, while Howard was significantly better on the defensive glass.  That was evident in the eye test as it sometimes seemed like the Rockets were completely hopeless on the defensive boards without Howard in the game.

Howard was significantly more turnover prone while Capela used even less possessions than Howard.

  Capela Howard
HOU on court ORtg 109.4 108.2
HOU off court ORtg 107.7 108.5
Opponent on court ORtg 105.6 107.9
Opponent off court ORtg 109.8 108.7
On - Off +5.9 +0.5

The team was slightly better offensively with Capela on the court than it was with Howard.  And the team was quite a bit better offensively with Capela on the court than it was with him off the court.  The team was slightly worse offensively with Howard on the court.

Opponents fared better offensively with Howard on the court than they did with Capela.  But opponents fared slightly better with Howard off the court than with him on the court.  Opponents fared significantly worse with Capela off the court than on the court.  Capela’s overall on-off was a whopping +5.9 to Howard’s +0.5.

  Capela Howard
FG% allowed 49.4 50.1
Contest % 35.0 27.0
Points saved/36 1.10 -0.66
Opponent Rim Attempts per 36 On 25.2 22.9
Opponent Rim Attempts per 36 Off 24.0 26.5

Capela was better than Howard against defending opponents at the rim, while contesting a significantly higher number of shots.  But opponents challenged Capela more than they did Howard, which isn’t that surprising.  He’s still “Dwight Howard.”

  Capela Howard    
> 15 ft. Diff. % -2.3 0.7
< 10 ft. Diff. % -3.8 0.0
< 6 ft. Diff. % -4.6 -1.9
Overall Diff. % -1.8 0.8

This was interesting.  Via’s defense tracking, Capela had a much more significant impact on the shooting percentage of the man he was defending, from every area on the court.  For example, opponents shooting shots from greater than 15 feet out usually shot 37.6% from that distance, but when defended by Capela, that fell to 35.2%.  You can see that at less than 6 feet, while opponents usually shot 59.9%, they only shot 55.3% against Capela, for a -4.6% difference.  Howard’s opponent seemed to shoot better in almost every situation.

Having said all of this, minutes played should not be overlooked.  Howard played 31092, while Capela only played 1561.  Upon surveying the above, one can easily understand why I’ve argued in recent weeks that it might not be wise to keep Howard long term with a cheaper, younger replacement waiting in the wings.  Across the board, Capela fared better, or at least comparably to Howard, in every category; the team overall played better with Capela on the court than it did with Howard.  But sample size is not irrelevant.  Howard has a body of work of consistent production, i.e. we know what he can and will produce when playing significant minutes over the course of an entire season.  To that extent, Capela is still an unknown commodity.  We see he can be better than Howard, and probably was in a limited stint, but its dangerous to just assume that production will naturally extrapolate in an extended role.

But risk is inherent in sports management.  As of this date, my stance on the matter is as follows: if the Rockets have other willing options in free agency, they undoubtedly should part ways with Howard.  But if no one is taking their money, and they can bring Howard back on a cheap deal (say, $15million/year), I might give that route consideration.  The thought of bringing back a bare-bones roster is scary.  And there’s the theory that perhaps with a new coach, a more engaged Howard might bring higher productivity.  (Though I’m not holding my breath on that).  But even still, it is my opinion that the risk of committing long term to a player on the decline with a significant injury history is greater than committing to the relatively unknown.  The data we do have indicates that Capela is already ready for the job, and with his age and work ethic, there’s no reason to think he won’t continue getting better.

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

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