LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton, all lottery picks, have emerged as the three leading rookies this season, but after that trio, one name stands out among the rest.
The 25-year-old Houston Rockets rookie signed as an undrafted free agent in the off-season, but he's cemented himself as a key cog in their rebuild, hitting the ground running in his first season in the NBA, averaging 11.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 51.8 percent from the field in 29.3 minutes per game.
After not hearing his name called on draft night in 2018, Tate ventured to Belgium and then Australia, where he was named to the All-NBL First Team after a standout season with the Sydney Kings, with his NBA dreams soon following.
Not many, if any undrafted rookies come in and make an immediate impact the way Tate has, with his tenacious defensive instincts, relentless rebounding motor and switchable versatility making him a fan favourite in the post-James Harden era.
As the only Rockets player to appear in all 63 games this season, Tate's consistency has been a highlight in an otherwise disappointing season for the 16-47 Rockets, owners of the worst record in the league.
Jae'Sean Tate - 2020-21 monthly breakdown
Recently switching from power forward to small forward, Tate's transition to the perimeter to accommodate Kelly Olynyk has been seamless, but his effort doing the dirty work has remained the same, crashing the offensive glass, hustling for loose balls and taking charges.
Tate doesn't take any possessions off.
TUFF! 😤 pic.twitter.com/Bfs8S7j06M- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 28, 2021
"He's super important to the team," Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. "I would say his versatility is the thing that stands out the most. His ability to handle the ball, play on the perimeter, play down low, guard multiple positions. He has defended fives and played the point for us."
Big enough to body up power forwards and agile enough to defend smaller guards, Tate's work on the defensive end stands out among his peers, leading all rookies in steals with 81 and second in total rebounds and offensive rebounds, while sitting third in total points scored.
From #Rockets PR: Jae'Sean Tate has tallied 672 points, 324 rebounds, 141 assists, 78 steals, 34 blocks and 48 3- pointers made this season... the only other rookie to have posted those numbers through the first 61 games of a season was LeBron James in 2003-04.- Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) April 26, 2021
The 25-year-old plays beyond his 6'4" frame and according to Fivethirtyeight's wins above replacement metrics (RAPTOR), Tate has been the most valuable rookie this season. He currently sits at No.3 on NBA.com's most recent Rookie Ladder, behind Haliburton and Edwards, impressing in his matchup against the No.1 pick this week.
While Edwards (19 points, 9 rebounds) and the Timberwolves picked up the 114-107 win, Tate poured in 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 9-of-12 shooting as he continues to make a strong case to be named to one of the All-Rookie teams at the end of the season.
Never stops bringing the hustle!- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 28, 2021
😤 @o_tate_ pic.twitter.com/o6TvwjBLBW
"It's humbling. It's great that people are starting to see the work I put in. But I'm just trying to stay here as long as I can," Tate said post-game.
"The awards and all the recognition will come with hard work, and just continuing to go out there and giving 110 percent. I think I've been doing it. Just trying to be consistent, and don't cheat the game.
"It's been a crazy year. We've dealt with a lot of things, but this is one of the closest teams that I've been on. I'm excited to see what we can build, not only for the rest of this year, but in this offseason."
Alongside Christian Wood, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr., who just became the youngest player in NBA history to record 50 points and 10 assists in a game, the Rockets have assembled a young core of non-lottery picks, giving the fanbase hope for the future.
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