The Houston Rockets may have a potential steal in Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. With his combination of size, speed, athleticism and shooting touch, he could develop into a versatile weapon for the club down the road.
Unfortunately, there are some big obstacles standing in the way of Dekker reaching his potential early in his rookie season. The first is Houston’s immense depth up front. Even with injuries slowing them down during the preseason, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are likely to see the lion’s share of the playing time at power forward. At small forward, the team gave Trevor Ariza $32 million last summer to be the starter and spent another $23.4 million this offseason to make Corey Brewer his backup. Second-year pro K.J. McDaniels could also be in the mix at the 3 spot.
Head coach Kevin McHale recently explained the difficulty of a rookie trying to make his mark on a team determined to win now.
“For Sam, it’s just going to take a little while, which isn’t unusual. If you’re coming to a team that wants to win and planning on winning a lot of games, as a rookie, it’s hard to play. The guys that do it are very, very special, and they’re probably a handful a year. I think Sam can have a chance for us to do different things. He just has to get his feet wet and figure the NBA out and he’ll be all right.”
Of course, Dekker isn’t helping his cause by struggling mightily in the preseason. The No. 18 overall selection is averaging just 6.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game. He is also shooting just 34.5 percent from the field, including a measly 25 percent from behind the arc.
Dekker’s ability to regain his shooting touch will go a long way to helping him carve his niche with the team. McHale expressed a desire throughout the preseason to utilize the rookie at power forward.
“If (Dekker) gets time this year, unless there’s an injury, it’s more likely at the four than at the three. We’ll keep him there. We’ll probably play him a little three also.”
The three-ball is a big part of the Houston’s offense, as evidenced by the team finishing in the top-two in three-point attempts the past three seasons. And McHale likes using his big men to space the floor. Last season, Motiejunas (36.8), Jones (35.1) and Josh Smith (33.0) all shot 33 percent or better from downtown. Even Dwight Howard (50 percent) fired up a pair of trifectas last year.
If he can turn things around, Dekker can flourish as a small-ball power forward. At 6’9″ and 230 pounds, he’s physically similar to former Rocket Chandler Parsons. Like Dekker, Parsons was a versatile forward with the stroke to knock down treys and the athleticism to attack the basket. Even though it hasn’t translated to the pros yet, Dekker was a career 34.8 percent three-point shooter in college, and he’s shown off his hops by making plays like this in exhibition.
With little room for growth on the main roster and so much to learn about the pro game, Dekker will likely spend the bulk of his rookie season in the D-League. With time to find his groove, he could be a sneaky weapon for the Rockets down the stretch. Jones and Motiejunas did well from three last season, but they are both better suited as interior scoring options. Additionally, both players have struggled to stay healthy throughout their respective careers.
Meanwhile, Dekker’s skill set should allow him to thrive in Houston’s fast-paced, small-ball lineups. His rookie season may have gotten off to a rocky start, but his time to shine will come sooner rather than later.