Most basketball experts suggest that it takes at least a couple of years to truly evaluate a team’s NBA draft class. If that’s the case, Rockets GM Daryl Morey has to be pretty excited about the contributions of his 2015 NBA class.
Sam Dekker, a 6-foot-9, small forward from Wisconsin, was the Rockets’ first-round pick (18th overall). Montrelz Harrell, a 6-foot-8 power forward from Louisville, was the team’s second-round pick (32nd overall).
After a forgettable rookie season for both, they’re making significant contributions to the team’s success in year two, leading a dynamic group coming off the bench.
The Rockets were pleasantly surprised when Dekker was still on the draft board at pick 18. As a two-time All Big 10 performer, Dekker led the Wisconsin Badgers to back-to-back Final Four appearances. Issues with his back eventually virtually curtailed his entire rookie season. In year two the Rockets are getting what they expected, a real player.
“The NBA is basically about taking advantage of the opportunity you’re given,” Dekker said. “It’s all about being prepared and putting in the extra work, so when your time comes you can take advantage of it. That’s what Montrezl and I have been able to do, work hard and stay ready and it’s paid off for us.”
Despite the injuries in his rookie season, Dekker worked to find a silver lining out of his adversity.
“It was a struggle for me,” Dekker said. “Obviously, getting hurt is not something you want, but there are a lot of ups and downs in life and in careers. People who have longevity are the ones who can respond to that adversity in a good way. I just tried to take every day and learn from it, get better, get stronger.”
It didn’t hurt that new head coach Mike D’Antoni installed an offense that fit Dekker to a tee.
“Coach D’Antoni has been a huge part of my growth,” he said. “The way we play suits me well. It was good getting a new head coach and staff because everyone was able to get a fresh start. We all had to earn our time and prove we belonged on the court.
“…I’ve always been a guy who can play above the rim, using my athleticism. For people who haven’t seen it I’m trying to show them more and more of it. It’s where I thrive and I’m very comfortable with it.”
For Montrezl Harrell, his rookie season was a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news, he was able to stay healthy. The bad news, he spent the majority of his rookie season in the Valley, playing for the D-league Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
“It’s all about staying ready,” Harrell said. “At any given moment you could be thrown in there.
“Some games, I go nights when I don’t play, but that’s normal when you’re the younger guy and you have a veteran guy like Nenê and a guy like Clint [Capela], who’s been in the lineup longer. The main thing is for me to stay ready. I don’t get down on myself.”
The “stay ready” mindset served Harrell well earlier this season when starting center Capela missed six weeks with a broken leg.
“When I was in the D [Developmental] League last year I took that time serious,” Harrell said. “I really worked on my game. I didn’t take any plays off. I knew at any given time something could come up.
“Things happen, and in this case it was an injury to Clint. You don’t plan for them, but they happen. Bottom line is when your number is called you’ve got to be ready. With Clint being hurt it was my time to step up and I did.”
The Rockets begin the second half of the season in the No. 3 position in the Western Conference, behind San Antonio and Golden State. In order to maintain their status it important to get quality play from their second unit. The play of Dekker and Harrell will be key.
“We play as hard as we can for the minutes that we’re out there,” Harrell said. “We don’t worry about shots, we don’t worry about not getting the ball on the offensive end. We just go out there and play hard and the ball just seems to find us.”