Why Defensive Star Jae’Sean Tate is a Top 3 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year Candidate

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: Jae'Sean Tate of the Kings poses for a portrait during a Sydney Kings NBL media opportunity at Auburn Basketball Centre on September 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year race is coming to its last few months, and frontrunner, LaMelo Ball, is sidelined for at least the next four weeks. With Ball out, the race is now fair game for anybody. While many look to James Wiseman, Tyrese Haliburton, or Anthony Edwards to step up and take the award, no rookie has surprised more than 25-year old Jae’Sean Tate.

Tate, who played at Ohio State University from 2014 to 2018, went undrafted in 2018. He was picked up by the Milwaukee Bucks summer league team that offseason, but never got to play due to a fractured hand. The injury, as well as his draft status, saw him fall out the NBA ranks, which led to a stint in Belgium. While with the Antwerp Giants, Tate was a Belgian League all-star and helped lead the Giants to their first Belgian Cup title in 12 years.

After a successful year in Belgium, Tate got the opportunity to play for the Sydney Kings in the National Basketball League in Australia. Here, he got a chance to play against fellow NBA rookies LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton. He was also coached by current Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver.

As impressive as Tate’s time in Belgium was, he was dominant in the NBL. Tate scored 16.4 points per game while also bringing in six rebounds and a steal each game. Tate was also extremely efficient, as he was first in the league in FG% out of all players with more than 200 shot attempts. Tate was named All-NBL First Team and after the hire of Will Weaver by the Rockets, Tate saw himself finally getting his shot at the NBA as a 25 year old rookie.

Instant Impact

Joining the Houston Rockets, Tate’s first taste of the NBA could be described as abnormal. Entering a team who’s franchise player is forcing out would normally be a distraction for a rookie, but not for Jae’Sean Tate. Tate impressed so well during James Harden‘s fiasco, that during a practice on December 21st, Tate and Harden got into an argument as Tate was outplaying the former MVP.

The altercation was used to fuel the move for Harden weeks later by the media, although both Tate and Harden had said that it was nothing more than competitive fire. However, this competitive nature in Tate clearly sat well with Head Coach Stephen Silas. On opening night, Tate played 37 minutes off the bench and also closed out a tight away loss to the Portland Trailblazers.

Since James Harden’s trade on January 13th to the Brooklyn Nets, Tate’s role with the Rockets has taken off, starting in all but three games. Tate has averaged 11.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, as well as 1.2 spg since then as well. Although the box score stats are not exactly eye popping, especially in relation to fellow rookie of the year candidates Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball, Tate’s impact on the game has been undeniable.

Although the Rockets have struggled, there have also been many complications with the team. Outside of star players leaving, the Rockets have dealt with a ridiculous amount of injuries and roster overhaul. The team has already had 25 different players suit up and 31 different starting lineups in just 46 games.

One of the only constants for this team has been Jae’Sean Tate. Tate is one of two players on the roster to play above 40 games and the only to play all 46. His on/off rating of +7.6 is second on the roster to only Christian Wood (+10.6). Tate’s comparison is often players like PJ Tucker or Draymond Green and he lives up to it.

Although the box score numbers show a “run-of-the-mill” player, his impact has been undeniable on the Rockets’ ability to compete this season. Nobody expected Tate to be a Rookie of the Year candidate halfway through the season, but Tate’s impact with a heightened role has only increased.

Comparing to 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year Candidates

To establish the criteria at the moment for who can be considered “Rookie of the Year,” players who have played less than 30 games so far this season and less than 10 minutes a game were excluded from all statistical rankings. Among all players who met the criteria, Jae’Sean Tate finds himself among the best in many categories. Out of 26 qualifying players, Tate ranks:

  • 7th in Points per Game (10.9)
  • 4th in Rebounds per Game (5.5)
  • 10th in Assists per Game (1.8)
  • 3rd in Steals per Game (1.1)
  • 5th in Blocks per Game (0.6)
  • 4th in Minutes per Game (28.6)
  • 2nd in FG% (.607)
  • 5th in TS% (.591)

While the box score stats compared to his rookie counterparts is impressive, what really impresses are Tate’s advanced stats. Among all previously qualified rookies, Tate ranks:

  • 1st in Win Shares (3.1)
  • 6th in PER (13.9)
  • 3rd in Efficiency Difference (+5.7) (per Cleaningtheglass.com)

Tate’s ability to stand out both in the stat sheets and on the court are unmatched, and his low Turnover rates and low foul rates just show that he is an NBA caliber player. As the Rockets look to rebuild, General Manager Rafael Stone has alluded to Tate as a pivotal young player moving forward and for good reason. Tate as well as fellow rookie KJ Martin will likely play along side Kevin Porter Jr and Christian Wood for the years to come.

Tate’s impact in the locker room and on the court is not that of your average rookie. His ability to impact the game is matched by only seasoned veterans and all-star caliber players. As his role improves with injuries still lingering around the Rockets, as well as the departure of Victor Oladipo, Tate’s time to shine is now. Being one of the few bright spots for the season for the Rockets, Tate has established himself as a leader for the team. Although the Rookie of the Year race is still wide open, Jae’Sean Tate is a contender in the discussion.


Thanks for reading! For more Rockets related content, follow me on Twitter @FindingNeema23. Also follow @OTH_Basketball for more basketball related content like this!

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