There is an earnestness in the way Rockets coach Stephen Silas discusses Houston rookie forward Jae'Sean Tate, whose rapid development this season has been a pleasant surprise.
Tate paired a career-high 19 points with seven rebounds and added two blocked shots in the Rockets' 115-103 victory over Memphis on Thursday, further entrenching himself as a key cog in the rotation.
Tate has become a fixture in the starting lineup and will make his 12th career start on Saturday when the Rockets host the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center.
Silas offers no ambiguity discussing how vital a two-way role Tate plays. And in Tate, the Rockets' first-year coach has found a kinship and something that binds the two together.
"We're both new and we're both just like, 'wow, this is great to be in this position,' " Silas said. "But we both have a lot of responsibility and that's what I talk to him about. He has a lot of responsibility and he has to do things right on both ends of the floor, and he's getting better every game.
"Moving forward, that's what we're going to need."
Tate almost immediately made his mark defensively, showcasing early on a versatility and ferocity similar to that of P.J. Tucker, also an undersized forward in the Houston frontcourt.
But where Tate has flashed unexpected promise is offensively. He drilled two 3-pointers against the Grizzlies, marking just his third game this season with multiple 3s made. Additional progress from Tate in that regard would further enhance an offense still rounding into shape for a Rockets squad that has won 7 of 8 games following a bumpy transition after the James Harden trade.
"A good thing about Tate is he works hard every day, extremely hard," Rockets guard John Wall said. "We told him to take the role like P.J. does: shoot corner 3s when they're there. We trust you in those, and when you catch the ball in the slot or in transition we know you have the ability to drive and kick to find shooters. Use that ability there and don't shoot too many wing 3s."
The Spurs, like the Rockets, are still in the process of carving an identity. After failing to qualify for the playoffs last season for the first time in more than two decades, the Spurs are shifting from a reliance on veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan to a collection of twentysomethings who represent the future of the franchise. DeRozan leads the Spurs in scoring at 20.1 points per game, but he is flanked by several up-and-comers.
That can prove to be a volatile mix. The Spurs had won five of seven games before suffering a pair of blowout losses to the Grizzlies, only to rally from a 16-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.
Of the Spurs' 10 losses, five have come by 14 or more points, making the comeback against Minnesota emboldening and something positive to build on.
"You like to see that fight from the whole unit, from whoever is on the floor," Spurs guard Dejounte Murray said. "See that excitement on the bench from dudes wanting success for their teammates out there. We came together like this is a must-win and we fought and got the win."
--Field Level Media