Many draft pundits, reporters, and fans (including myself) believed the Rockets would select a PG if they did not trade out of the 18th spot in the 2015 NBA Draft. I personally had Tyus Jones or RJ Hunter penciled in as the selection. Both filled a certain need on the team.
Tyus Jones would provide depth at point-guard, a possible long-term solution to the inconsistent play from those already on the roster. As for RJ Hunter, he's a great shooter and a wing who can create for others off the dribble and alleviate some pressure from James Harden in the half-court. But I'm not the general manager. Daryl Morey is. And he surprised many by selecting SF Sam Dekker 18th overall.
2014-2015 Season Stats
Courtesy of http://www.pointafter.com/
Shot-chart and Shooting
Sam Dekker is most effective around the paint. He attempted 53.6% of his field-goals from inside the paint, converting 71.1%. He struggles shooting from the top of the key (30.6%), which accounted for 31.6% of his field-goal attempts. He's very good from the right side of the floor (right-corner withstanding), where he likes to initiate dribble penetration opportunities and attack the defender's three-point close out.
In the 2015 NCAA tournament, Dekker averaged around 21 points per game. He continued to struggle from the top of the key, but continued success from the right wing and in-fact shot 50% from the right corner. Most of his baskets around the rim were from cuts, drives, or attacks from the right side of the floor. Seldom was he successful when attacking with his left hand dribble, an area where he must improve. In the tournament, he was 41% from the right mid-range area, while a poor 24% from the left mid-range area. For Sam Dekker to become successful and earn Kevin McHale's trust, he'll need to improve his shooting stroke and transform from a streaky into a consistent three-point shooter.
Speaking of his shooting, let's take a look at his mechanics and breakdown how good of a three-point shooter he can be.
Sam Dekker's shot has improved considerably since he got to Wisconsin. Their coaching staff worked with his form, trying to improve his release and fundamental mechanics over time.
During his time in Wisconsin, he developed into a nice off-the-dribble shooter while working on his spot-up shooting. He doesn't waste much time off the catch, quickly setting his feet and getting into his motion. However, this is where we see trouble in his mechanics; his fluid release.
Let's take a look at an example from a game this past season versus University of Milwaukee. It was in transition where Sam drifted towards the corner, spotted-up, and released a three. We'll go through his shooting motion, step-by-step, and breakdown the inconsistencies I mentioned above.
Shooting is not only about the release (upper-body), but also the lower-body. When moving off-ball, and getting into position off-catch, the shooter must set themselves up to jump/set/shoot in one motion. Three-point shooters in particular must turn their body and feet at the same time once the ball reaches their hands. This is because you want to be going up for the shot-attempt as if you had been standing at that spot the entire time.
In this situation, Dekker comes and turns with the ball -- setting his feet to attempt the wide open three-pointer. Also notice while he turns and spots-up, Dekker attempts what is called the 'dip'. This represents the split-second movement of the ball once received and before the jump-shot. The player brings the ball down a few inches around their waste, allowing for the release and shot to be more loose and in rhythm. It is between the second and third frames where Dekker catches, dips the ball to gather himself, and sets-up to what will be a fluid three-point jumper.
Dekker has angled his strong shoulder and strong hip-side towards the basket. This alleviates tension from the neck and shoulders, and generates more strength with less effort and pressure on the lower/upper body depending on form.
A problem that DraftExpress acknowledged in their 'weaknesses' video for Sam was that Dekker sometimes dipped his left-shoulder. Here he doesn't do it in the gathering phase, but rather as he's attempting to release the ball. This adds more weight to the shot, and more likely than not will result in a long jumper off the back of the iron.
His release incorporates a fling-like movement of his strong-hand, meaning that he lets the ball go with a strong force and catapult-like high arcing release. In the NBA, he'll need to work on his follow through and practice releasing with index finder rather than manipulating his wrist (and strong-hand four fingers) to fling the ball higher. The index finger makes the shot straighter, aiming it towards the intended location. If multiple fingers are used, sometimes the ball gets a mind of its own. Therefore a skill that's focused on during development of shooters is the follow-through of the index finger. This a fundamental flaw which can be corrected with coaching.
It's hard to tell somewhat from the screen-shots, but Dekker comes down just in front of where he attempted the jumper. This takes away the stress from his upper-body muscles, relaxing his shoulders and making his jumper more fluid. If he relies on his arm strength, the shoulders, back, and neck will tense up and constrict him from finding his target. By improving his lower-body and foot-work, he'll have better power and shooting balance which will properly guide the ball toward the hoop. He'll need to work on his shoulder dip and release, but he's only a few corrections away from having solid mechanics and a consistent shooting form.
Role on Offense
Sam Dekker is very versatile on the offensive end. In Wisconsin he was very limited due to the system itself and didn't have ample opportunities to run pick-and-rolls or staples of NBA offenses. However, from his skill-set and strengths I see a great potential to fulfill a role this team needs on offense in order to space the floor and get the defense off-balance. Let's go through some of his strengths as an offensive player and breakdown Rocket comparisons.
In Wisconsin, Dekker was a fantastic cutter and slasher -- made smart, calculated decisions when Frank Kaminsky was down low in the post. He's learned to attack from either direction, at his best when cutting into the middle from the right side of the floor.
The Rockets not too long ago had a player on their roster with a very similar skill-set as a slasher. Chandler Parsons was great at reading the defense, making the intelligent off-ball decision, and attacking the defense and its mismatches.
Last season without Parsons, the Rockets struggled when defenses took away the passing lanes. With only one capable ball-handler to attack off the dribble, defenses can overload the strong-side. When Parsons was on the team, the Rockets had a weak-side playmaker who could punish the defense for doubling on Dwight or James. By attacking the close-out or taking the kick-out, defenses had to honor a secondary ball-handler. I think this was one of the many reasons Daryl Morey liked Dekker's ability. His skill set can open up the Rockets' playbook to a similar style it ran during the 2013-2014 season where James Harden wasn't the only efficient pick-and-roll ball handler with Dwight, but rather Parsons was also effective as well on elbow or snug pick-and-rolls.
Here's one example of how I see Dekker contributing on offense. In this play, Parsons throws the ball to Dwight in the low-post. The Warriors overload his side, as Iguodala believes Curry will protect the left lane if beaten by Parsons and decides to double Dwight. Dwight recognizes this and passes it back out to Parsons who has rotated toward the left wing area. He attacks the close-out, as the defender is not set, and finishes inside.
Notice how Parsons stays low, forcing the referee to blow the whistle if contact is created. Dekker has similar skills, including a quick first-step and long strides when driving towards the rim. Parsons was very explosive attacking the paint, and often times finished with thunderous slams. With Dekker's ability to find open spaces/lanes to slash and time his back-door cuts, there will be Parsons-like role for him once he develops in a season or two.
Now here's Dekker showing a very similar skill-set on this drive to the rim. Notice his quick first step and long strides. He stays low to the ground, then extends his arm once he approaches the rim.
Another way I see Dekker contributing to the Rockets is with his spot-up shooting ability. As we talked about, he still has some ways to go in order to be a consistent contributor from behind the three-point line, but the ability is there for him to open up the half-court offense and provide more spacing for James Harden to operate in.
Here's an example from a Rockets perspective. Dwight Howard is double-teamed in the post. Obviously playoff teams will be reluctant to double unless he's deeper inside, but for our purposes let's imagine Motiejunas (better post presence). Here Dwight draws the double, and kicks it out to Parsons who's open for the three. He also has the driving ability. Flashback to the Rockets in the playoffs. Houston did not have optimum three-point shooters on the floor, thus allowing defenses to collapse the paint and take away driving lanes. With Dekker (as he develops) and Ariza on the floor with Harden, Howard, and [insert unknown PG], the Rockets will have shooters to space the floor, and another ball-handler to attack defenders' close-outs.
Here's an example of Sam Dekker's spot-up shooting ability from a game versus Penn State earlier last season. Frank Kaminsky is doubled in the post, as a defender from the opposite side comes over to help. Penn State defender No. 2 is late on his rotation, and Dekker continues to transition over where Kaminsky finds him set for an open spot-up three.
If you can't tell from the play above, Wisconsin had two other options on that play. If the double-team was made, Dekker would transition over (like he did) for a three. If the defense rotated over to Dekker's side, then the secondary big (#10) would set a flare screen for #21 to attempt a three. The Rockets run these flare screens very often when Harden is the primary ball-handler, particularly in isolation sets. A flare screen means that #10 would essentially set a screen on #21's defender, who is the closest defender to #21 because the rest of the defense shifted over to Kaminsky's side. Here's an example of a flare screen from the Rockets this season.
James Harden throws the cross-court skip pass, while simultaneously Dwight Howard sets a flare screen on Trevor Ariza's man. Marc Gasol will not be quick enough to contest, and Ariza is left open for a spot-up three-pointer. The reason I bring this up is because Dekker also has the ability to move off the ball and play the role of #21 in Wisconsin's offense and Trevor Ariza in Houston's offense. Sam Dekker may not be a score-first or playmaking point guard, but he's a versatile player who can be a vital and versatile role-player in the right system.
Last but not least, I'd like to touch on his post-game against smaller players. In small-ball lineups where cross-matches and switches run wild, Dekker's ability to over-power smaller defenders and fight for offensive rebounds will certainly earn him playing time in the future. He uses his size advantage well, and is a crafty finisher around the rim. His footwork is fantastic for a forward of his size, and intelligently positions his feet when turning inside.
Here's an example where Sam Dekker's footwork and quickness gets him an easy two points inside. He gets the ball in relatively good position against his primary defender. He jams his foot into the post-defender, backs him down left to get deeper position and open the baseline, turns baseline and jams his strong-foot into the defender, leans in and scores. The post-move and basket happen in three seconds. Dekker keeps the defender off-balance by making one quick dribble, establishing position, and attacking the open space inside. It'll be interesting to see how this translates into the NBA, but my main concern is when he's defended by players with longer wingspans and length. Longer players can force him to struggle, so it is imperative that he improve his lateral movement and face-up game during his development.
Overall, I'm very intrigued with Sam Dekker as an NBA prospect and look forward to seeing how his college game will translate into an NBA setting. He's certainly very athletic and has a lot of versatility in his game. If he continues to develop his three-point shot, and solidify his ball-handling skills (especially in traffic), I don't see why he won't have a role coming off the bench in the near future.
As for why the Rockets didn't select a PG in the draft? My understanding must be that they're very confident they'll bring over Sergio Llull, pick-up someone in free agency or trades, and/or re-sign Patrick Beverley. The Rockets would like a competent defender and solid three-point shooter to play alongside James Harden. But if the playoffs were any indication, secondary ball-handling and play-making will be welcome. And Sam Dekker, once he develops, will be a wing who can score, create, and be a great role-player for this Houston Rockets franchise.
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