Former Wizards forward Sam Dekker, who spent this season playing in Russia, joined the Bleav in Wizards podcast to discuss his adventure getting home from Russia once travel became restricted due to COVID-19. He also talked about what it was like playing overseas, what he needs to do to get back on an NBA roster, his time with the Wizards, and shared funny stories from playing for different NBA coaches.
The podcast is hosted by former Wizard Larry Hughes and myself. We wanted to bring Dekker on to give fans a sense for just how many things have to go right for even the 18th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft to stick in the league. In our chat with Dekker, we discussed how hard it is for any player, especially a young one, to feel comfortable in a new environment. Dekker was a part of four trades and that certainly limited his ability to fully fit in with teams, Washington included.
Some excerpts from the conversation are included below, but check out the full episode for even more insight into life in the league.
Which NBA veterans took Dekker under their wing?
Dekker: [Patrick] Beverly is one for sure. Trevor Ariza, he was my vet. I think everyone has a relationship with Trevor it seems like. Trevor still checks in on me. I was in Houston and DC with him. And Blake Griffin. Blake was really good to me when I was in LA and he always checks in on me every few weeks…Even guys in DC, I still hear from John Wall and Brad sometimes. So it’s always good to hear from those guys.
What does Dekker think he needs to do to get back into the NBA?
Dekker: “It’s just definitely the consistency from three. It’s one of those things that once you know your weaknesses or know your shortcomings, those are things you’ve got to attack. You know for me it’s a multitude of things with my jumpshot. In Houston I shot 34-percent from three which isn’t high enough.
Obviously, I think I’m a better shooter than that and I had one cold spell that brought me down. Cleveland I was at 39-percent. Last year in the 30’s again. So that’s kind of been the knock on me. Talking to teams last summer, you know they were saying, ‘Sam can run, he can jump, he can defend but we need a guy that we can rely on to hit that corner three, you know, coming into the game for 15 minutes, hit two or three threes and sometimes Sam has it and sometimes he doesn’t.’
So it’s one of those things that I know it, I’m not too proud to admit it. It’s one of those things that I need to keep to showing. Rep after rep after rep, I know I can shoot the ball. But I have to prove that I can shoot the ball when I’m not playing 35 minutes. If I’m playing 12-17 minutes I’ve got to be able to shoot 40-45-percent in those minutes. So that’s going to be big for me.”
Larry Hughes: That’s a skill. Don’t think that that’s not something that you can’t work on or something that won’t happen for you. That’s definitely a skill to understand that I’m not getting the 35 minutes, I’m only getting the 12 but I have to be just as efficient. From player to player, I struggled with being comfortable and in that rhythm. Once you get in that rhythm then you can knock shots down but if the minutes aren’t there it’s kind of tough to get that rhythm. But it’s good that you understand that.
Dekker: I know guys like Kyle Korver, who I feel like everyone’s played with, he’s that rare breed that can play 8 minutes or 28 minutes and his shot is going to be in rhythm every time. And that’s a rare rare guy. So that’s a guy I tried to take a lot of nuggets from. What is your mentality when you’re coming into the game and getting into your rhythm? So just trying to learn the little things like that to come in and feel warm for your first shot is really important.
What are his thoughts on Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard?
Dekker: I was really happy for Tommy. He’s a Wisconsin guy, he loves the state. We had a good relationship while I was there. When I got traded there he called me right away, he was excited. He was one of those guys, you could tell he was proud to have his title, proud to have his job. He was at practice every day. Always talking with the guys whether losing games, winning games. Trying to check in on guys…all and all a good guy.
That’s the kind of guy you want running your team. Just to have someone who isn’t afraid to talk to players whether good or bad. So I was happy to see he got the promotion.
How does Dekker feel about not being re-signed by the Wizards?
Dekker: Obviously, wasn’t happy to see they went in the other direction with me but those relationships are good to have and good lasting relationships to keep. Even in the heat of the moment you don’t want to do something that you’re going to regret down the line because things can always come back around.
The success of current players from St. Louis like Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum
Dekker: One thing with all of the St. Louis guys in the league right now, they’ve all got good heads on their shoulders too. I think it helps when you’ve got a guy like Brad who is kind of at the forefront now, kind of taking that leadership. And he’s such a good dude, you all know Brad.
Dekker’s Wisconsin team beating a 38-0 Kentucky team with Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns during March Madness in 2015
Dekker: I think I’ve talked about this game more this year than ever just because March Madness was gone. It’s crazy, we lost to them the year before in the Final Four. Obviously, they added Karl, Devin, Willie Cauley(-Stein), those guys. We had a team that we really truly thought we were better than anyone in the nation. I think that’s something that you need as a team. We don’t always look the part.
Go look at a Wisconsin team, they don’t look the part. We know that. Physically, I think we were the only team that could match up with UK that year. Everyone on was 6-foot-5 or taller in our starting line-up, just like them. We were athletic, we could jump, we could run. It’s one of those things, we knew we had the experience factor. Most of us were on second Final Four and we had just gone through a gauntlet. We played Oregon, we played North Carolina, we played Arizona.
Then we have Kentucky and Duke. Think about it, that’s the Blue Bloods. So we didn’t really care who was in front of us, we had a fun team, and we had the National Player of the Year. Kaminsky was unreal. We just knew that if we kept it close or we through that first punch then we were going to be able to withstand it.
Did Dekker think he fit in with the Wizards?
Dekker: I liked the way the Wizards used me. They used me as a trailer a lot. A 3-4 trailer so that I could DHO (dribble hand-off) into things and just use my passing ability. And Coach Brooks was good about that so I really enjoyed playing with those guys. I had a good connection with John, I had a good connection with Brad. Even Jeff Green, another vet that’s really smart. Playing off those guys is a lot of fun.