Article written by Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin)
Now three games into this 2020-2021 Rockets season, 25-year-old rookie forward Jae’Sean Tate finds himself earning the admiration of Houston fans, his new teammates and newly anointed head coach Stephen Silas as a player with not just limitless hustle and energy, but a versatile skill set, too.
What should come as a shock to no one is that the 6-foot-4, 230 pound Tate — who is built like an NFL linebacker — actually played both football and basketball in high school growing up. As a member of the Pickerington Tigers, he averaged 22.3 points, 12 rebounds and three assists per game his junior year and ended his high school career as the No. 1 ranked player in Ohio and the No. 15 ranked forward in the nation in the ESPN top 100.
Tate turned his high school success into a collegiate career at Ohio State, playing alongside now-member of the Minnesota Timberwolves D’Angelo Russell, where he often found himself playing the five against much bigger competition, like 7-footer Frank Kaminsky.
But Tate isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
“I’ve always been kind of undersized,” said Tate, speaking to Rockets media. “My dad is 6’9″ and he thought I was going to be bigger, so that’s where that interior game comes from, but when you’re smaller you’ve got to do your work early, you’ve got to play more aggressive than your opponent.”
Tate’s scoring peaked at 14.3 points per game in his junior season, with his senior campaign rounding out at 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as he helped lead the Buckeyes to a 25-9 record.
Despite his college success, Tate went undrafted in 2018, ultimately signing a summer league deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, but due to a fractured finger on his right (non-shooting) hand he was unable to play.
“I always knew that there was going to be another opportunity just because of the work that I put in from day one, I just didn’t know when.”
Tate’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise.
Rather than being buried at the end of an NBA bench, or relegated to the G League, Tate inked a deal at the end of summer on August 20 to join the Antwerp Giants in Belgium, allowing him the chance to refine his skills.
“Being able to go overseas and play, the game has just slowed down for me,” Tate said. “I know when to pick and choose my opportunities, but also developing more of a perimeter game as well.”
Following his stint in Belgium, Tate signed with the Sydney Kings in Australia for the 2019-2020 season where averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and two assists per game, earning him All-NBL First Team honors. The head coach of the Kings, Will Weaver, found himself pursued by both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls during their respective head coaching searches, but he ultimately found himself as a member of the Rockets assistant coaching staff under Silas.
Could that have played a role in Tate’s decision to come back to the states?
Tate and the Rockets came to an agreement on a three-year deal November 22, with the news of Weaver’s agreement to become the lead assistant on Silas’ staff breaking 10 days prior.
It’s definitely always great to have a familiar face in a place you’ve never been. The year we spent in Australia we did so many things, he’s one of the reasons I’ve been so confident. I think that’s been the greatest thing he’s done for me here is just give me confidence.
Weaver, who helped lead the Sydney Kings to the best defense and record in the NBL last season will play a large role in Tate’s shift to the NBA, but it’s proving to be a pretty seamless transition as the “Mini PJ Tucker” has already shown flashes beyond the usual effort and hustle that you would expect out of a young player trying to prove themselves.
Finding ways to impact the game without the ball in your hands is a great way for a rookie to prove he’s worth giving more playing time.
This is a great display of how — when executed correctly — a poor or reluctant shooter can still be effective offensively.
In the first play, Tate beats the zone to the rim, but rather than force a contested shot he dishes it off to the cutting Christian Wood for an easy slam. In the second, another strong cut by Tate followed by patience and quality footwork in the paint to get a clean look for two.
And defensively? It’s time to sell Lu Dort stock and invest in Jae’Sean Tate; he knows what he’s about.
“Bring energy, get loose balls, defend on the other end,” said Tate. “I’m always going to play with energy and effort, that’s pretty much my role here.”
Oh, and about that “confrontation” with James Harden? These two are going to be just fine.
Tate is averaging 7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 50 percent shooting in 27.7 minutes through three games and has shown a relatively deep bag that includes handles, passing, defense, rebounding, finishing ability, not to mention enough energy to power a small city.
The biggest question with him will be his three-point shooting; Tate managed 37.3 percent from behind the arc (albeit a slighter shorter arc) in the NBL, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to the NBA, where he has only connected on 2-of-7 from deep so far.
There is plenty of competition for spots at the wing on this Rockets team, but it looks like Tate may have already carved himself a place in the rotation.
“Coach Silas believes in me and trusts in me, I’m just coming in here every day and trying to prove him right.”
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