Why Jae'Sean's star is rising fast in Houston

JaeSean Tate at the 2022 NBA All Star Weekend. Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images

Jae'Sean Tate's game-winning lay-up in the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend was the latest highlight in what has been a remarkable start to his NBA career in Houston.

The former Sydney Kings standout has started in 113 of his 126 appearances with the Rockets, averaging 28.3 minutes per game as a do-it-all defensive presence across multiple positions.

"Winners win. He's won forever," Rockets assistant Will Weaver tells ESPN.

"The kinds of things that he brings to a team in Belgium are the same things he brings in Australia or here. He plays more often than not on the best opposition offensive player, Tatum, Doncic and on and on. That has been a huge part of his value here, just the way he straps up on that end and competes and limits the great players from scoring as many as they're used to."

Weaver understands the value Tate brings to the basketball floor as well as anyone, with the former Kings head coach repeatedly pointing to the 6'4", 230-pound forward as an NBA-calibre talent during the 2019-20 NBL season.

Coming up with an appropriate player comparison for Tate is no easy task, with his unique ability to defend up or down and impact the game in non-traditional ways.

"I've spent a lot of time thinking about this," Weaver says.

"The one guy that I come back to a lot is Jimmy Butler. He likes contact, affects the game in so many ways. He scores 14, has six rebounds, guards the best player, but he can't shoot, how is that possible?

"J.T. has found ways to impact winning despite that sometimes, but the strides he's made has made it harder for teams to completely ignore him. He might not be our leading scorer but he's going to be picked by coaches 10 times out of 10 if they have the choice of choosing who they want to impact winning."

Although the makeup of the roster is entirely changed over the last 12 months, Tate's role could draw some comparisons to long-time Rocket P.J. Tucker, who has built an incredible resume defending the best players in the league, oftentimes while giving up significant size.

As the perennial contending Rockets roster began to be blown up early in the 2020-21 season, Tate was able to spend some valuable time around Tucker before the veteran was traded to Milwaukee to eventually play a vital role for the eventual champions.

"It was cool for J.T. to see P.J. and get to play alongside him," Weaver says. "I think the thing that separates P.J. is his intensity, it's about as high as it gets. Practice one, preseason game one, game one, his voice is horse all the time, he's just yelling and clapping and up into people.

"You see that on the basketball court, guys don't like to be guarded by him, even the great ones. J.T. certainly learned things being able to be alongside him, as did I."

Tucker was one of several veterans to make their exit during the season, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden headlining the list. Once expected to contend for a deep playoff run, the Rockets would end the season with a 17-55 record as a new era began.

"Any success I've had in coaching is from looking at it as a problem-solving exercise. That's the fun of it. I thought it was great fun, I was really excited to see all the ways that we could optimise our group and help them any way we could," Weaver says.

"I was not crying in my pillow seeing an MVP walk out the door," Weaver laughs. "Instead, it was really cool to get to be around [Harden] and then John Wall, Victor Oladipo, I wouldn't have been exposed to that if that context not been swirling around our team.

"I would love to be on an NBA championship team someday and that's going to mean I'll get to be around a player like James [Harden], Joel [Embiid] who I spent time within the early days, Kevin Durant before his pro experience. It's fun to be around those guys at the beginning of their journey and the hugs we have hit a little different because we've been around each other in the hard times. I'm grateful to have more young guys to hug over the next decade as they turn into future champions."

Rather than allowing a difficult situation to take hold, Weaver thrives on the ability to work closely with Tate and the other young players in Houston, all while being just a few hours from home in Austin.

"Alperen Sengun, K.J. Martin, those young guys are hungry and striving and have incredible gifts. That's the joy for me, being a part of those guys' formative years. I'm sure I could find that anywhere, but I don't think I could find it with a better boss, closer to grandparents for our three-year-old son, in a warm weather city like Houston so I'm grateful to be here."

"I'm a very curious person. I approach things with that curiosity and that might make it easier for me to lose 50 games and come to work every day with a smile on my face. I'm never ceasing to annoy colleagues and friends with questions. [Veteran Players like] Dennis [Schroder], Eric [Gordon] and countless before and many in the future will be pestered by me to try and figure out what it is they know that I don't, and there's a lot."

Both Tate and Weaver continue their journey in Houston as the stretch run to the postseason begins, with the 37-year-old's motivation to continue the journey at an all-time high.

"I'm more excited than I've ever been to be an NBA head coach. That wasn't something I stayed up late night dreaming about when I moved to Australia, but I've now had the chance to see that I can be at an NBA team with a context that isn't common. I'm just so fortunate to have the opportunity to work in basketball and be around these players."