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How does Clint Capela’s thumb injury impact James Harden and the Rockets?
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Steve Aschburner: I think the Rockets are stuck between the proverbial rock and a Harden place. Harden already has been working too hard, shouldering too much of the load, racking up usage and minutes at a debilitating rate. Now the team’s second-most important player is out. That means the reigning Kia MVP’s job just got harder. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the wear ‘n’ tear doesn’t catch up to him and the Rockets come playoffs.
Shaun Powell: It probably won’t mean anything drastic on the win-loss column because Chris Paul should return in a few weeks. That said, the Rockets have nothing to compensate for Capela’s rebounding and interior defense. Which means James Harden will be asked to shoot more because as you know, he simply doesn’t get enough touches anyway.
John Schuhmann: There’s no replacing Capela, who has become the ultimate roll-man complement to Harden. The 147 assists that Harden has to Capela are 39 more than any other player has to a single teammate this season. Capela’s combination of size, leaping ability and great hands makes him an easy target for Harden at the basket if his man takes one step too many toward the MVP. Without Capela, defenses won’t be punished as easily for having an extra defender guarding (or just leaning toward) Harden, who will obviously need to carry more of the scoring load for the next 4-6 weeks. In 1,131 minutes with Capela on the floor, Harden has averaged 21.1 field goal attempts and 9.0 assists per 36 minutes. In 354 minutes with Capela off the floor, he’s averaged 26.5 and just 6.2 per 36. The eventual returns of Chris Paul and Eric Gordon will obviously ease some of Harden’s burden on offense, but Capela’s size and athleticism will also be missed on defense, which has been a bigger concern for the Rockets this season.
Sekou Smith: With the way James Harden is rolling right now, I’m not sure anything can change the trajectory of the Rockets’ season, not even a devastating blow to yet another one of the team’s most critical players. Capela was having a fantastic season before suffering this thumb injury. And perhaps no player on the Rockets’ roster worked in concert better with Harden. Still, if Capela misses all of the time expected, the Rockets will need an assortment of their role players to step up dramatically to help fill the void. Ultimately, they are going to feel the impact of Capela’s absence severely if Harden slows down at all.