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NBA AM: Dekker Adjusting to Not Playing

A year after being one of March Madness’ big stars, Rockets forward Sam Dekker adjusts to a reserve role.

Joel Brigham

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Houston Rockets rookie Sam Dekker has played in three games this season. That’s it. Three.

That’s an incredibly low number for any first-round pick, let alone one as talented as Dekker. But as just about any first-year player can attest, finding playing time on a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of minutes to go around can be tough, especially when there are injury concerns as well.

Dekker, for example, missed all of Summer League with a back issue that would eventually require surgery. Having missed three months of the regular season, Dekker has found it challenging to get himself some playing time.

“Getting hurt definitely didn’t help that because I had to get back on the floor and then get back in shape,” Dekker told Basketball Insiders. “I just got back two weeks ago, so we were over halfway through the year and they already knew their rotation. I knew it would be tough for me to find my way back into it.”

Knowing that the former 18th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft was rusty following his back rehab, the Rockets have sent Dekker down to the Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League on a few separate occasions.

“We’re utilizing some trips for me down in the D-League to get my feet wet, get my confidence back, evolve my game,” he said. “We have a good group of guys down in the Valley. I had absolutely no problem going down there because I got to play. I just want to play ball, so whenever go down there I try to play hard, so if I do those things well it should translate up here.”

He says all this with a smile on his face, which seems odd considering how little he’s been able to play. Dekker has been the best player on the floor almost his entire life before this season, and just a year ago he was named the West Regional Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four tournament.

Now, he’s adjusting to being a bit of an afterthought. That’s quite a change for a young player, and it’s something even Dekker admits has gotten to him at times this season.

“There are times where, I’m not going to lie about it, you can get really down on yourself when there’s long stretches where you’re not seeing the court. That’s been new to me. I’ve always played,” Dekker said. “But I’ve found myself really leaning on my vets, and that’s helped a lot. Trevor (Ariza), for one, has been great to me. He talks me through things, knows when I’m down, knows what I need to hear, and seeing a guy who works that hard makes me want to get back in the gym. It keeps me motivated. I know I’m going to have a long career in this league. I just have to stay positive.”

Off the court, things have come much easier for the Rockets’ rook. After spending his entire life in Wisconsin, the move to Texas at least has been a very smooth one.

“The move has been nice,” he said. “I got to walk my dog this morning in 65, 70-degree weather, and I call my mom back home in Wisconsin and she tells me it’s five degrees outside. I’ve got it a little nicer.”

Weather notwithstanding, the switch to adulthood hasn’t been anywhere near as hard for Dekker as it may have been for some other young players.

“The transition has been so smooth, but then I’ve traveled so much already. These days we start AAU so young and we travel all over the country, so I’m used to being on the road and traveling to new places,” he said.

“I had the blessing of growing up in a family that was well enough to be comfortable, so I knew that I had to be smart with my money. I also was raised to know that in order to get to that point you can’t be dumb, so my parents raised me well and taught me the value things and how to cherish what you have. I don’t take it for granted. Yeah, I spend a little bit here or there, but I’ve been good with my money, kind of like I was in college, and I think that’ll pay off for me in the long run.”

He bought an Audi A8. He lives with his best friend from back home in his new place in Texas, and he’s struggling to find minutes on a struggling Houston Rockets team. In short, he’s a rookie, and plenty of players have gone through similar highs and lows in their own first stint in the league.

Dekker still seems extremely positive about where he’s headed, even if his first season in the NBA has been relatively slow. Ask him, and he’ll tell you the best is yet to come.

New Basketball Insiders Podcast!

On this edition of the Basketball Insiders Podcast, senior writer Ben Dowsett is joined by Zach Harper of CBS Sports. Ben and Zach discuss the up and down season of the Utah Jazz, whom they both cover in Salt Lake City, before taking stock of various individual awards at the three-quarter point of the season. Finally, Zach tells listeners about his path to success as a basketball writer, and the guys give a must-see top-five for their mutual passion: horrible movies. Listen below:

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics

With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Ben Nadeau

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With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.

Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.

His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.

Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.

Dennis Chambers

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With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.

Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.

A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.

The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.

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