Jae’Sean Tate was one of the biggest surprises for the Houston Rockets last season, with the rookie finishing the year with averages of 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game with shooting percentages of 50.6 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three.
Tate played in 70 games last year for the Rockets, starting 58 of them, and the 25-year-old second-year man is slated for another big role again this season. But we’re not yet sure if head coach Stephen Silas plans on starting him or having him come off the bench.
He spent time in the preseason with the second unit, and the Rockets will have a decision to make as to who will start at small forward. In fact, it’s one of the biggest questions this team has yet to solve.
Danuel House is still on the team and could start, while Silas could also elect to use Eric Gordon in a three-guard set. Tate is my pick, however. His advanced age for a second-year player means he’s more mature than your typical sophomore, and with the Rockets going with youth in their backcourt with Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, Tate’s well-rounded game can be a stabilizing force in the starting lineup.
He does all of the little things coaches love to see: defending at a high level, he’s willing to bang in the post when needed, and his IQ for the game is top notch. Having Tate in the starting lineup will allow KPJ and Green to do what they do best and will also allow Christian Wood, their current best player, to spend more of his time focusing on scoring. Daniel Theis is another glue guy who is likely to start, at least right away, but it’s only a matter of time before he’s replaced by Alperen Sengun, and having a guy like Tate on the floor with all of that inexperience will be of prime importance.
He’s going to be more effective anchoring that starting group than he would be coming off the bench and looking for a spark.
In addition to being a plus defender with top feel for the game, Tate is also an adept passer and a creative scorer, and I’ll be looking to see him continue to flash both this season, while also improving as a three-point shooter. That’s probably the biggest weakness in his game at the moment.
If he can become a legit threat from downtown, that changes a lot of things for Houston, especially if he’s in the starting lineup. Working off of the space that Wood, Green, and KPJ will create, Tate becomes even more dangerous if he can be relied upon to cash that triple at even a league average rate. Any defenders sagging off for a leg up on the Rockets’ top scorers are then going to pay the price. And with such an adept offensive game in other areas, getting that deep ball in order is the last frontier in making Tate a complete player.
Let’s just hope the coaching staff has the good sense to let him develop it while playing as a starter. I think that they do.