• For many of the NBA’s big men, the so-called charity stripe is anything but.

    It’s a source of major consternation for guys who simply can’t hit their free throws at an acceptable rate. For all the ways that a strong frontcourt presence can alter a game, some can be removed by the tedious and often boring act of repeated intentional fouls.

    Clint Capela was (and still is) certainly one of those players- his rim running ways pair wonderfully with James Harden‘s mastery of the pick and roll while his length provides shot blocking and rim protection that Houston will need down the stretch. He’s the only deterrent in the paint and can throw a wrench into the plans of teams who think they can score at will on the notoriously leaky Rockets.

    Of course, Capela is also the not-so-proud owner of a career .428 mark from the free throw line. To this point it’s a wonder that more teams haven’t taken to hacking the Swiss center.

    Now Capela is trying to improve before they get the chance.

    Jonathan Feigen’s terrific work in the Houston Chronicle discusses Capela’s work on improving his free throw stroke. The big man credits some of the improvement to his work with John Lucas, and it seems to be paying off.

    While his rookie season saw Capela post an abysmal .174 mark, he’s improved each year- up to .379 last season and sitting at .548 this season. There’s still a long way to go, but there are some encouraging signs. He shot 8-10 from the stripe in Saturday’s game against Memphis, foiling their plans to get back in the game with intentional fouls. It allowed him to stay on the floor in crunch time and help Houston salt the game away- Capela also notched a career-high 24 points in a definite non-coincidence.

    Interestingly enough, Capela is shooting a much more palatable 68.2 percent from the stripe since the calendar turned to February. That’ll certainly play.

    That sort of improvement calls to mind Hassan Whiteside‘s finish last season when he shot 74.4 percent from February onwards after shooting just 54.2 percent over the first four months. Whiteside is back down to .589 from the line this year, so it remains to be seen if last year’s finish was a blip on the radar or the first step in incremental improvement.

    Still, Capela approaching 60 percent would be huge for the Rockets. Even if he hits that mark, he doesn’t plan on stopping.

    “It motivates me whenever I see (Marc) Gasol. His first six, seven years in the NBA, he never shot a three. After seven years, he started to be a shooter at 39 percent. Whenever I see this kind of stuff, I know it’s all about work.”

    Lucas and Capela have been putting the work in and hope to reap the rewards of improved shooting and improved confidence. Lucas has big visions for the youngster.

    “This is a long-term game. Our guy is a pick-and-roller. He’s really learned how to roll. This is about his future. In a couple years he will have 3-point range. Making the free throws really freed his mind that ‘I can do anything,’ That was the last place he wanted to be. Now, he feels real comfortable there.”

    It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea of Capela drilling threes, but he and his coaches are flying high. There’s a newfound confidence and a positive feedback loop in place that has Capela playing as effectively as ever. Only time will tell how this pans out, though the early returns are exhilarating for everyone involved.

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