The good guys are taking the floor again, for the first time since the crushing Game 7 loss to the Warriors. Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Luc Mbah a Moute are out, and James Ennis, Michael Carter-Williams, and Carmelo Anthony are in. Eric Gordon is still in at the moment, and will possibly be in the starting lineup. I’ve held off on writing my 2018-2019 season preview in fear of something suddenly making it obsolete. So I’ll continue to hold off for the time being.
For the preseason, I’m not looking at lineups, or anything like that. The starters won’t see enough time for Mike D’Antoni to use his real combinations. As I say every year, you’re mainly looking at the comfort level of the new acquisitions. How will they use Carmelo Anthony? Will he chuck 3’s like we hope or will there be more jab steps from the elbow than James Harden pump fakes? How does Ennis compare to Trevor Ariza? Is he able to string together more than three dribbles and play overrated defense? And how does Marqueese Chriss look filling the Clint Capela 2.0 role? Given their current tax situation, which I wrote about yesterday for Forbes, its very difficult seeing the Rockets picking up Chriss’ $4.08 million team option for 2019-2020. They’ve got to be hoping he can show something in these next few weeks so they can ship him off after October 31 once he’s eligible to be aggregated in a deal. That’s of particular importance when the team has much cheaper options in Zhou Qi and Isaiah Hartenstein, with similar levels of viability.
To that end, watch the backup bigs. More than Anthony, and with Brandon Knight expected to be out, they’re the most important players in preseason. Harden will be Harden and Paul just needs to stay healthy. But with Nene proving to be completely unplayable against the Warriors, backup center is one which will have severe consequences this season. D’Antoni won’t burn out P.J. Tucker too quickly in games that don’t matter.