Key Clippers’ Stats:
- Traded to Clippers from Rockets as part of Chris Paul deal in June 2018
- Played in 73 games for the Clippers in the 2017-2018 season, starting one, and averaged 12.1 minutes per game
- Averaged 4.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 0.5 assists, shooting 49.4% from the field and 16.7% from three
- Traded by the Clippers to the Cavs in August 2018 for rights to an overseas prospect and cash
When the Chris Paul trade was announced, probably outsized expectations were placed on each “major” piece that came back. Sam Dekker was one of those pieces, and to some Clippers’ fans was actually the best part of the return haul. After all, Dekker was coming off an age 22 season where he’d been a legitimate rotation player for a very good Rockets team. Moreover, he had barely even played his first year, so the 2016-2017 season was almost like a rookie season for him. That sense of potential, combined with Dekker’s size and athleticism, meant most people thought he would improve on his numbers with the Rockets, perhaps significantly so. In the brief stretch between the trade and the signing of Danilo Gallinari, Dekker seemed penned in as the Clippers’ starter. Even after Gallo was brought onboard, his and Blake Griffin’s injury-proneness seemed to promise that Dekker would have a major role in the Clippers’ 2017-2018 season.
In terms of actual basketball skills, people hoped that Dekker would improve on his three-point shooting from the year prior, and would be a “3 and D” type forward for the Clippers. There was a vision of an athletic frontcourt with Dekker, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan that would get out in transition and throw down tons of dunks. Sadly, none of this was to be.
The unfortunate reality is that Sam Dekker was quite bad for the Clippers last season. He struggled with his shot out of the gate, and didn’t seem to know where to be on the court. That sapped his confidence, and despite some occasional positive stretches here and there, Sam never regained that confidence the rest of the season. In fact, from January on, Dekker took a mere 11 threes in almost 450 minutes on the court, a glaring indicator that he’d lost all faith in his outside shot.
Sam’s minutes waned as the season progressed. First, he lost time to two-way players Jamil Wilson and CJ Williams. Then, the arrival of Tobias Harris and the slight resurgence of Wesley Johnson pushed him firmly out of any major role. Sindarius Thornwell providing energy and a stronger defensive presence won him a higher spot in the rotation as well. By the end of the season, Sam was surviving on mere scraps, getting a few minutes in every game, mostly to give the overworked Harris a breather. It was clear he was at the bottom of the wing pecking order, and he was never able to work his way out for more than a game or two.
Simply, Sam didn’t really offer much to the Clippers last year. The only month where he consistently played at an NBA level was December, when he paired with Lou Williams, Thornwell, Jamil Wilson, and Montrezl Harrell to create an oddly effective bench unit. In that stretch, he was active and confident, making smart cuts to free himself for dunks, and hitting the boards hard to contribute even when he wasn’t scoring. In January, confidence in his outside shot vanished completely, and with it, the rest of his game went off the rails as well. Even if Dekker wasn’t hitting from deep, his athleticism in transition and on the glass could have brought something to the Clippers. Unfortunately, other players ahead of him brought more to the table, and his energy just wasn’t good enough to justify real rotation minutes down the stretch.
Sam Dekker won’t leave much a legacy with the Clippers at all. While fans were disappointed in his performance last season, he wasn’t a homegrown, drafted player who busted out, or even a prized free agent acquisition who didn’t pan out. Instead, he was part of a trade, and while Dekker’s stint with the Clippers didn’t meet anyone’s expectations, his placement in the deal will largely be forgotten due to the success of Lou, Harrell, and Pat Beverley. If Dekker had been more a centerpiece of the deal, or if the rest of the players involved had been equally as disappointing, he might be remembered a bit less fondly. As is, I’m sure that in a few years, most Clippers’ fans will barely remember his being on the team.