There’s so much going on in recent days in Jazzland that keeping up with all of it can be tough if you aren’t glued to a computer screen most of the day. Yesterday’s latest bombshell, released on the air by 1280 host Spencer Checketts, has the Jazz firmly entrenched in talks with Cleveland in pursuit of the top overall pick, having reportedly offered the hefty sum of Derrick Favors and the fifth pick, and potentially mulling the inclusion of Alec Burks in exchange for the top spot overall and guard Jarrett Jack1. This is in addition to reports that Utah has also made offers to Milwaukee for the second pick, which comes in addition to reports that potential fifth pick (should they keep it) Aaron Gordon was back in Salt Lake for a second, extended workout. And that’s just the start.
You get the idea – it’s a crazy time of year, one that got exponentially nuttier after Joel Embiid’s injury news last week shook everything up. But as goofy as it is, technically no moves have been made yet. This means that, at least as of this writing, the Jazz will still be selecting fifth, 23rd and 35th. And since predicting the future isn’t one of my stronger suits, and since so much has been said about the options at five, let’s get a breath of fresh air from a different angle: if the Jazz indeed pick 23rd, there are several possible impact players who will remain on the board. I touched on a few potential choices here just over a month ago, and though a couple of them almost certainly are no longer options2, some of the same general ideas apply. The Jazz, should they keep this pick, have a chance to add a piece with real upside.
Another such prospect is Swiss-born big man Clint Capela. Coming off a strong season in France with Elan Chalon, Capela’s stock has soared in recent weeks with an infusion of publicity and hype. It’s well-deserved, too – let’s look at why.
For starters, Capela is one of the few potential first-round selections this year who projects to be able to handle both big positions comfortably. He’s listed at 6’11, and though a solid 7’0 would be nice, he also boasts a hefty 7’4.5 wingspan, easily wide enough to deal with NBA length. Further, both these measurements3 have increased since 2013 – Capela turned 20 only a month ago, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him grow another inch or two before he’s done.
He’s a bit light for his size, at just 222 pounds, but two points here: first, his body type, unlike someone like Porzingis I mentioned earlier, appears ripe for adding some poundage. He even looks as though he may have weighed more at times within the past year, though such observations are nothing more than speculation. Second, he more than makes up for what may at first be a weight disadvantage against bigger centers with likely my favorite quality of his, a deceptively ridiculous jumping ability. Take a look at a few clips (courtesy of a DraftExpress scouting video):
It’s not just that he can jump high, though he certainly can for his size – it’s the versatility with which he can do so. Capela can jump effortlessly off either foot with great lift, and more than that, seems to lose almost no vertical even when he appears off-balance or unready. This is a huge intangible in my book, the type of thing that makes someone like Serge Ibaka so dangerous defensively (among other things, of course), and Capela could be down the same road as a shot-blocker. His highlight film is also littered with bodily contortions for lobs at the hoop, an area where he will immediately be a threat at the NBA level, and his first and second jumps are as fast as any I’ve seen for someone his size, which will make him a strong dump-off option for penetrating guards given how quickly he can catch and dunk the ball (third clip above is an example of this). Great body control for such a height and age is a theme across several areas:
His mental acumen hasn’t yet caught up to his physical skills, but plays like the one above showcase just how powerful he can be once this happens4. He’s a strong rebounder despite giving up weight advantages often, utilizing his superior athleticism to the tune of 12.6 boards per-40-minutes in 33 French league games this year (even higher, 13.1, in 10 games against tougher EuroCup competition).
And to cap off his upside, Capela has solid offensive fundamentals in most areas. He’s a strong finisher at the hoop with either hand, a must since he gets such a huge portion of his offense there. His pick-and-roll footwork can use some tweaking, but this is to be expected at his age, and he’s thus far made up for it with his otherworldly athleticism – should he lock down the footwork within his first few seasons, he will instantly be an elite threat as a roll-man. He’s a menace coming off cuts down low given his lateral quickness and leaping, shooting a ridiculous 73.8 percent coming off screens, per DraftExpress. He’s even got some handles in the bag for special occasions:
Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about him as a potential 23rd pick (instead of top five5) if he didn’t have a few downsides. First and foremost is his shooting, which has been abjectly awful in his young career. He has no confidence in his jumper, and shot under 50 percent from the free-throw line last year. But to my eye, which I’ll note again is only partially informed since I haven’t seen him in person or regularly, there don’t seem to be any massive, uncorrectable flaws in his motion6. I see no reason why, with work, he can’t reach average or slightly below-average jump-shooting numbers, especially given the variability shooting can have in many cases over time, and “slightly below-average” easily carves a nice place for him in the NBA if his other skills develop on schedule.
Certain other questions about his intangibles and mental acuity have been mentioned, but I find these fairly standard for players his age, particularly foreign players who may encounter slight language issues. Good coaching, as always, should weed many of these out quickly, and the Jazz didn’t just hire a revered player development coach for nothing, after all. The two largest concerns, both raised by Nate Duncan in his international scouting piece, are his overall strength and his “feel” for the game.
On these, though, I tend to lean in the direction of something of a rebuttal made Saturday by Dean Demakis – I don’t think they’re huge issues given the role he’ll play and the way the league is trending. His lack of a post game doesn’t worry me much, and Demakis’ comparison to a lighter and more mobile version of Tyson Chandler is, to me, a strong one. Capela will be a terror in the pick-and-roll and an excellent rim protector, and will likely show even a slightly more diverse offensive game than Chandler due to his mobility.
And further, I think some of the strength and intangible concerns are overplayed. Capela may have lacked full intensity 100 percent of the time, but this is understandable for a clear next-level talent playing in what amounts to a glorified American high-school program. Motivation is much easier to come by in the NBA, and in brief stints where he’s appeared fully engaged, Capela has managed his weight disadvantage quite well. Take his two matchups with another touted prospect from this draft, Jusuf Nurkic, in this year’s EuroCup – Capela gives up nearly 60 pounds to Nurkic, but was active and intense and disrupted the big Bosnian forward. He wasn’t perfect, but even such a limited sample leads me to believe he’ll do just fine against NBA size7. Here’s the full video of the Capela-Nurkic matchup, again courtesy of DX:
Selections in the mid-20’s like this are typically meant to be upside picks, and to this eye, Clint Capela embodies that description. He’ll need plenty of polishing, but as I said earlier, Utah’s new staff figures to be well up to the task. With some basic improvements in easily improvable areas, he could be the steal of the draft – Demakis and ESPN’s Kevin Pelton both at least make mention of top-five upside, and I think it’s easily within the realm of possibility. Given his meteoric rise recently, it’s tough to say if he will still be available at 23 for the Jazz, and it only takes one smart GM to snap him up. But if he’s there, pending a stunning drop from a potential lottery player, I think he’d be my first choice if the draft were today. Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.