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Rockets 2021 player recaps: Jae’Sean Tate

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One of the All-Rookie teams will be calling.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Jae’Sean Tate

What a first year it was for Jae’Sean Tate with the Houston Rockets. The 25-year-old undrafted free agent out of Ohio State came into the season a little under the radar, but new head coach Stephen Silas was immediately singing his praises out of training camp, busting out his crystal ball and letting us know:

“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, who played overseas in Australia and has really been a pleasant surprise.

He has good size. He can play multiple positions on both ends of the floor. He’s an exciting player I think everybody will enjoy watching.”

That prediction came to fruition, as Tate almost immediately became a fan favorite due to his work ethic and penchant for being in the exact right place at the right time. On top of that, he finished the year in the top 10 for rookies in just about every major statistical category. His final line reads 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.5 blocks on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent from deep.

He’s a solid defender whose knowledge of the game allows him to position himself properly while defending, which is half the battle, and he finished his rookie year with a +0.4 defensive box plus-minus and +0.34 defensive RPM.

Tate has a guaranteed deal through this season with a team option for 2022-2023, and the Rockets consider him part of their young core along with Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. It’s his versatility that makes him so valuable to the team and makes him such a good complement to Wood and Porter. Tate is listed as a small forward, but he can also play shooting guard, power forward, and even a touch of small-ball center and occasionally even point guard, making him the team’s swiss army knife.

Moving forward, you’d like to see Tate improve his three-point shot. If he can become effective from range, that should open other aspects of his game and make his on-court feel even more impressive if opponents have to legitimately worry about his three-point shot.

His advanced age, however, means he doesn’t have a ton of development left to go. He’ll be turning 26 before the start of next season, so he’ll be heading into his physical prime. What we see now from Tate is likely what we get. He’s not suddenly going to become a game-changing scorer nor a devastating rebounder or shot-blocker. And while he is a very good passer, evidenced by two games this past year with 10+ assists and another with 8 dimes, he’ll never be a James Harden or a Porter with the ball in his hands.

But what he is is a dang good all-around basketball player, and if he can continue to fill the role of glue guy — a la the Trevor Arizas, P.J. Tuckers, Shane Battiers of Rockets teams past — Houston has a key piece already in place.

Although, I’m also not totally convinced that despite the front office and coaching staff’s love for Tate and what he brings to the team, that they are a lock to keep him long-term. Surely, other teams have recognized Tate’s energy and basketball IQ, which could make him a valuable commodity on the trade market for a rebuilding team looking to improve their overall talent level. Tate’s the kind of guy you need on your team, but he may also be the kind of guy other teams are looking for in negotiations. That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Tate is a virtual lock for either first or second team All Rookie (likely second team, even if I think he belongs on first) and will be somewhat of an elder statesman for a team with three first-round draft picks scheduled to join the roster in a month.

If they can pick up even half of what makes Tate so effective on the court, the Rockets are in good hands.