At the small forward position, the Rockets have two established veterans in the rotation in Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer, but as they enter their early thirties, sophomore Sam Dekker could be groomed to be the in-house replacement at the small forward position a few years down the road.
Ariza and Brewer still have two years left on their contract, and while Dekker has a team option after this season, it is unlikely that the Rockets will let him go as this is effectively his rookie season.
Dekker played in just three games for the Rockets last year, all during garbage time. A back injury limited him all of last season, and he was only able to play seven games in the D-League to go with it. He played well in the D-League, averaging nearly 12 points per game, but shot just 23.7 percent from the three-point line. Sample size may have been a factor, however, as he shot nearly 35 percent from beyond in three years of college ball.
Dekker is extremely athletic, which is probably his greatest strength. He can run the floor at an incredible speed for someone who is 6’9”. In the Summer League, he played mostly at the three, with some four sprinkled in, while averaging 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
If there is a knock on his game, it would be his rebounding. He does not get enough rebounds to play the stretch four. If the Rockets want to play him at the four, he needs to become more versatile and be able to crash the boards more often.
There is a bit of uncertainty as to what kind of player the Rockets want Dekker to become. The McHale-Bickerstaff regime may have had a different idea than what the D’Antoni regime may have. Will Dekker become the prototypical three-and-D small forward? Or will Dekker become an athletic all-around forward? In a way, he is kind of a mix between Ariza and Brewer. He has quickness and athleticism like Brewer, and a shot similar to Ariza’s, but where does he fit in the Rockets’ system?
I would like to see the Rockets develop him into a more athletic all-around player, like Shawn Marion was for the Suns when D’Antoni coached in Phoenix. Marion was a solid enough three-point shooter, but was a lockdown defender and was known for his toughness. Dekker was drafted 18th overall by the Rockets because he was simply the most talented player on the floor. Dekker has the versatility and the talent for the Rockets to transform him into any type of player.
He’s seen very little action this preseason, only playing in about 24 minutes through three games. He’s averaging 6 points per game, but hopefully we will see more action from Dekker during the second half of the preseason. I would like to see the Rockets give Dekker a start, or at least a role player’s minutes against another NBA team. Maybe give Ariza or Brewer the night off and allow Dekker to get some experience against some NBA talent.
Dekker is a promising prospect, and this year will be spent continuing to build his game. He has too much talent for the Rockets to give up on after two seasons. He will make the 15-man roster, but he will likely split time down in the Valley and in Houston, along with Chinanu Onuaku, but if someone ahead of him in the depth chart suffers an injury, Dekker may be asked to play more minutes in Houston.
He is still a year or two away from cracking the rotation, but this is a big year for Dekker’s development and he has the potential to become a solid contributor for the Rockets in the years to come.