Quick, who’s the best rookie in the NBA?
Quick, who is the most valuable rookie in the NBA this season, by 538’s RAPTOR WARP (wins above replacement player)? If you read the headline, you probably guessed it’s Jae’Sean Tate. But by how much? The number might surprise you.
Tate is rated currently at 3.5 WARP. That’s a respectable number. When looking at rookies, it’s quite a lot.
Tate is a FULL WIN better than Lamelo Ball by WARP. While Ball undoubtedly projects for a brighter future, Tate is a good, valuable, NBA player right now. He’s no Nikola Jokic (13.5 WARP, still lower than some non MVP Harden seasons, btw) but situated around 3.5WARP is where you will find players like D’Aaron Fox, Khris Middleton, Marcus Smart and Michael Porter Jr. Tate isn’t just the top rookie, he’s also in the company of very good NBA players, which means he’s performing like a solid young veteran, excellent news for a player who is already 25 years old.
Those other players, were all highly picked, highly rated, and highly paid (or will be). Meanwhile, the Rockets got Tate not through the draft, but through good international scouting and player development. Tate went undrafted out of Ohio State, and then went to play in Belgium and then, Australia. Somehow the Rockets spotted the potential, and brought him to Houston. He has flourished. He’s an incredible value, as the Rockets have team options on Tate for 2022, and 2023 at roughly $1.5 and $1.8 million, respectively.
Jae’Sean Tate is an NBA anomaly. He’s a 25 year old rookie. He’s a 6’4” “center”. Despite that, his toughest battle probably wasn’t getting to the NBA, after a childhood marred by tragedy.
He’s a person you might come to greatly admire if you take the time to read Mirin Fader’s excellent piece on Tate in the Ringer. If you didn’t already love Tate (I did!) you probably will afterwards. If you already loved Jae’Sean Tate, you’ll love him more still (I do!). I’d add quotes from the article, but it’s best read on its own. The Rockets rarely get stories that are thoughtful, and positive from the national media, let alone moving ones. It’s a rarity worth at least a click.
Tate has overcome tragedy, personal struggle, and the bleak odds of making the NBA at his size and position. He’s remarkable. He’s the sort of player some of might see ourselves as, in a different world.
After all, it’s hard to see yourself as Lebron James, to have the temerity to imagine you’re one of the entire worlds biggest, strongest, fastest, smartest, most durable, most agile, quickest-thinking, and hardest-working people. To know, pretty much know, you’re The Chosen One of The NBA from age 15 onward, and then, as prophesied, plan accordingly, by starting your own sports agency and thus controlling not only your own career, but much of the business of the NBA itself.
Imagine being a teenager with the savvy to cultivate a stable of childhood friends to entrust with your dream, and friendly sportswriters to whom you’ll give scoops, thus keeping them beholden to your career. That kind of preternatural canniness is hard to square with any teenage version of myself, even one found in cloud cuckoo land.
Some of us might dream of being hard working, and quick thinking, though. We might see ourselves more easily as Jae’Sean Tate than Lebron James. To imagine being from the same state as Lebron James, but a different world, as far from the spotlight as it’s possible for a D1 player to be. But now Tate is somehow in the NBA, playing well, and even scored a tricky basket on James…
In a season of gloom, Jae’Sean Tate is a lighthouse, and not just for his play on the court.