The ultimate unknown for the Houston Rockets entering the season was Sam Dekker, and he ended up being a very pleasant surprise.
Aside from three throwaway games last year, Dekker spent the whole year either on the bench or rehabbing from back surgery, and the Rockets never got a chance to really see with the 18th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft could do.
Things changed once he got healthy and ready to go for the Rockets in 2016. The former Wisconsin Badger quickly made up for lost time and instantly became a contributor. Dekker played in 77 games (starting twice) averaging 7 points and 4 rebounds (rounding up) a game.
For what the Rockets asked of Dekker, he provided them exactly what they were looking for. Coming off the second unit, the Rockets needed someone to give Trevor Ariza a rest and, while they had Corey Brewer, they needed a player with much more upside.
Even if Brewer had stuck around longer — he was traded for Lou Williams — the future was Dekker, not him.
The more Dekker played, his confidence grew and so did Mike D'Antoni's confidence in him. The playing time scales started to tip more and more in his favor and pretty soon the need for Brewer was no more.
Dekker, throughout the year, became a go-to guy off the bench and was a part of a lot of key lineups for Mike D'Antoni. The second- and third-best lineups of the season both had Dekker playing the four. Per 100 possessions, Nene, Dekker, Brewer, Eric Gordon and Patrick Beverley were +18.9, while Clint Capela, Dekker, Gordon, Beverley and Lou Williams were +17.6.
Dekker's best game of the season came against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Already 0-2 vs the Grizzlies on the season, the Rockets were without Ryan Anderson who had the flu. D'Antoni turned to Dekker and it worked perfectly.
Dekker led the Rockets in scoring pouring in 30 points (easily a career high) in 35 minutes (also a career high). He skied for a few dunks and hit plenty of threes, going 6-11 from downtown.
Dekker would only play over 30 minutes once during the year, but throughout the season you kept on seeing little nuggets here and there about what he can do.
In his first full season of action, Dekker converted 65 percent on shots in the paint and 32 percent from three. After a month of the season, he was hitting close to 40 percent from deep, so there’s clear reason for Rockets fans to expect a higher percentage from deep next year.
While Dekker is nowhere near a finished product, you got to see the guy the Rockets hoped for when they drafted him back in 2015.
With continued devolvement, he will only become a stronger member of the bench. His true position on the team is likely starting for Ariza when his contract is up after next season or if he is traded during this offseason.
The question of if Dekker will be next year is a very simple yes.
Dekker is under contract for next season at $1.8 million, the year after that, a team option at $2.8 million. He would be a restricted free-agent in 2019 (per Spotrac). If he continues to progress, Dekker will be here for a long time to come.
The 6-9 combo forward fits very will in D'Antoni's system, and when he's used as a small ball four, the Rockets are damn near unstoppable.
The goal for next year will be giving Dekker a little more to handle. Last season the Rockets tried to keep him at about 10-20 minutes a game and during the playoffs, he was out of the rotation altogether.
Dekker was a key part of the bench for the entire season, but when the playoffs started he was on the outside looking in. While his presence still wouldn't have fixed the dreadful Game 6 showing against the Spurs, he could have helped extend the bench and just provide a rest for Anderson, Ariza or whoever.
Next season, look for Dekker's playing time to get a bump closer to the 20-30-minute mark and look for him to be a part of D'Antoni's playoff rotation.