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:
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