HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Over the first nine seasons of his career, Sam Dalembert was a lot of things at various times to two NBA teams.
The 6-foot-11 center has been a presence in the middle, a rebounder, shot blocker, defender and occasional scorer during the eight years of his career in Philadelphia and then last season in Sacramento. If there was a knock it’s that he never seemed to put it all together at once.
But that has changed in Dalmbert’s first season with the Rockets where the self-proclaimed Haitian Sensation has been everything coach Kevin McHale had hoped and then some. It’s no coincidence that Dalembert’s impressive play has come during a time the Rockets are on an unbelievable six-game winning streak that has them right in the thick of things in the Southwest Division at 9-7.
“He’s been a huge asset for us,” Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry said. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Dalembert, a late free agent acquisition last month, has seemed to make all the difference in a team that had looked like it would have no real post presence this season after NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed a three-team deal that would have brought Pau Gasol here and after plans to land Nene fizzled.
Dalambert is changing shots and swatting them away on the defensive end and offensively not only is he cleaning the glass but displaying some scoring ability on the block that hadn’t been on the scouting report prior to this season.
There were times Thursday night it seemed New Orleans post Emeka Okafor wasn’t ready for the spin moves Dalembert made around the basket that left the youngster flat-footed. Then there was the 21 point, 16 rebounds explosion against his old Kings teammates on Jan. 13 that was the tale tale sign we might be looking at a different Dalembert.
“Sam was a guy you just always worried about on the defensive end, but last week I don’t know where he ordered that from but it’s nice to see,” said guard Kevin Martin. “He’s playing well and that’s a big key to us right now.”
Dalembert smiles and shrugs his shoulder when the subject comes up about his evolving offensive game.
“It’s whatever they ask me,” said Dalembert, who is averaging 9.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and his .600 shooting percentage leads the NBA. “I played 76ers for eight years and we had the stars so they didn’t need me to score so I fed off a couple lobs here and there or if I’m in the paint get some tip dunks or things like that. There was no need for me to score so I focusing more on the defensive end. As I went to Sacramento you see the difference, in order for us to win I had to be a factor. If not guys go rest on the other end so I had to be a factor.
“Then when I come here it’s the same thing, too. A lot of guys are working so word, (Luis) Scola faces double teams and kicks the ball out so I have to be able to contribute something…. My job is not to be a scoring force so I let the other guys do their thing offensively and I just feed in when they do get some stop I’m there for them.”
Dalembert certainly has been there for his new team since replacing Jordan Hill in the starting role Jan.7 against Oklahoma City. He’s been whatever the Rockets need a particular moment.
“I knew he could do a lot of things but I didn’t know he was quite as bouncy as he was,” said McHale, whose team takes on Minnesota on Monday night on the road. “He is really a tremendous individual defender. I knew he was a good team defender … When you see him every day you do get an appreciation for him.
“He’s just the kind of a wiley old vet that really knows how to play and that has kept his bounce and his lift. He’s pretty bouncy right now and that helps us a great deal.”
Dalembert is coming off an impressive performance during Saturday night’s 105-102 victory against San San Antonio where he put scored 12 points, blocked six shots and grabbed five rebounds while playing on an injured left ankle. A couple nights before it was his put back basket in the waning moments that was the difference in the Rockets 90-88 win over New Orleans.
Dalembert started out the week with a monster double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds) during the 97-80 win over the Detroit Pistons. During the Rockets last three games, he is averaging 13.6 points and 11 rebounds which seems to be clear sign is rounding into shape after signing late with the Rockets.
“He got a package from Haiti, those legs,” McHale joked. “I think it was a UPS package.”
But Dalembert has been even more than you can find in a boxscore to this Rockets team that is still searching for an identity. Just his presence in the middle has changed things for a team that has been without a true post since Yao Ming retired.
Dalembert has also seemed to gain the confidence of his teammates, who didn’t quite know what they were getting when the veteran signed for two years in December. What they’ve gotten is a man who perhaps has a chip on his shoulder after Sacramento unceremoniously cut him and didn’t keep its promise to bring him back.
They’ve also gotten a veteran who willing to be a leader by example, showing the youngsters the right way to prepare and to come to work every night. Dalembert, in return, has found group of players willing to listen and learn.
“It’s about how you talk to guys,” he said. “Nobody here wants to make mistakes or wants to play bad so when that does happen you have to communicate. You try to make it easier for your teammate by communicating and letting them know you have confidence in them.
“Having guys you can talk to is important, too.”