It’s been a while since the Houston Rockets had a rookie make a huge impact on the hardwood. However, do-it-all first-year player Jae’Sean Tate is changing the long-held perception based in truth that rookies are going to have a hard time making headway in H-town.
The Daryl Morey era was marked by a dearth of impactful rookies — for a multitude of reasons, which included Houston’s penchant for drafting either at the middle or end of the first round, Morey’s habit of moving his draft picks for other assets or shedding salary, and Mike D’Antoni’s rookie-averse rotations. But a quick look back shows just how long it’s actually been since the Rockets had a rookie make this type of impact on the court in their first season.
Tate is currently ninth in scoring among all rookies, averaging 8.7 points per game. You have to go all the way back to the 2011-2012 season when Chandler Parsons averaged 9.5 points per game to find a rookie that performed that well coming out of the gates.
Since then, there have been rookies who have eventually made a name for themselves, including Patrick Beverley, Robert Covington, Clint Capela, and Montrezl Harrell, but it’s been dang near a decade for a Rockets rookie to do what Tate is doing.
In addition to standing ninth among rookies in points scored, Tate’s 4.4 rebounds per game stand at sixth among rookies, his 1.8 assists per game stand at twelve for rooks, his 11 total steals are eight for rookies, while his 12 blocks are third overall for first-year guys. In addition, he’s shooting 52 percent from the field on the season, good enough for tenth among rookies, and his PER of 11.68 is good enough for twelve among rooks.
New head coach Stephen Silas has been high on Tate since the beginning of the season, saying this about the youngster in training camp:
“The one guy that stands out the most that people don’t really know of and doesn’t get the notoriety is Jae’Sean Tate. He had good size, he can play multiple positions on both ends of the floor. He’s an exciting player that I think everybody will enjoy watching.”
That positivity has continued into the regular season, as Tate has started in five of the 15 Rockets games, playing 26.1 minutes per contest, which is fourth overall among rookies. Tate has obviously already earned the trust of Silas, and even though his stats are near the top of every rookie list, it’s the little things that he does night in and night out that has gotten him on the court.
His top skill is his feel for the game. He just knows the right spot to be at all times.
Jae'Sean Tate is such a good roll man.— Disney Gary Clark (@Itamar1710) January 24, 2021
He's shooting 67.6% in the restricted area, which is up there with the likes of Gobert and Jokic, and he's also a smart & willing passer.
I'd like to see him used more in these spots. Really nice set here: pic.twitter.com/H5Iy7ktzlu
6’4 Jae’Sean Tate keeping 7’4 Boban Marjanovic off the glass pic.twitter.com/DtQZpK6uy6— Nathan Fogg (@NathanFogg1) January 24, 2021
In addition to his feel for the game, Tate’s also had some big highlights for the Rockets as well. In January 14 in a win against the San Antonio Spurs, he went for 13 points and 10 assists, and he became the first Rockets rookie to go for both double-digit points and assists since Steve Francis in 1999-2000. He also went for 3 blocks and 3 steals in a January 22 win over the Detroit Pistons, becoming the first rookie to have 3 steals and blocks in a game since Robert Horry in 1993.
He also earned himself a Jokic poster with a huge dunk on the big man earlier this year.
In addition, after a slow and tentative start from beyond the arc, he’s really settled in a groove of late from deep, not hesitating to put up the three ball, going 6-12 from long range over Houston’s last four games to raise his three-point percentage on the season to 35.7 percent.
You can see the guy getting better right before your eyes, as he’s putting together a complete reel of impact plays, subtle plays, hustle plays, and big shots.
With the Rockets in an all-new regime, there’s space for Tate to continually to get better. And while you never can fully predict the arc a young player will go on, Tate clearly looks like a building block for the future. And though the 25-year-old isn’t as young as most rookies, he still has some maturing to do and few years yet before he reaches his physical prime. The 6’4” 230-pound swingman has a game predicated on basketball IQ, which means he should age gracefully.
For now, though, Tate looks like a legit option for one of the NBA All-Rookie teams (my vote is for first team, but you know how the Rockets get treated in these matters), but perhaps more importantly, with Houston in search of their next superstar with which to move on from the James Harden era, Tate looks like a keeper that can help this team for the foreseeable future.