Michael Carter-Williams sort of became a punchline this offseason after the Rockets acquired him to shore up their backcourt depth. His career, of course, has been on a downward spiral since a rookie season in which he averaged 16.7 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.9 steals. Carter-Williams is a career 25% three-point shooter; such shooting futility has essentially been the crux of his problems.

While still only 27, it’s most likely far too late for him to ever recreate his shooting form. And the assumption had been that his shooting woes would be prohibitive of a major role on this team beyond service as a fourth guard.  But from what we’ve seen thus far in the preseason, Carter-Williams will be able to help the team in other ways. Mike D’Antoni, no stranger to ignoring convention to place players in a position to succeed, has had the former point guard serve as a wing in his rotation, always sharing the court with one of Chris Paul or James Harden. The result has been having an additional true point guard on the perimeter to make extra decisions.

The most fascinating way in which Carter-Williams has been used is that, perhaps to mitigate his shooting inabilities, he’s cut to the basket behind Harden and Paul on their drives. We’ve seen one of the two point guards drive to the rim and then dish behind them to Carter-Williams on the move in two of the team’s preseason games. It’s an added dimension to the offense which the team did not feature last season. Recall that Rockets shooters stayed motionless in their spots at the three point line with the least movement statistically in the entire league.

Initially, you can see how new wrinkles like this can counteract the Game 7 meltdown the Rockets experienced from the perimeter in the Western Conference Finals. Some cuts here and there could have helped while the Trevor Ariza’s of the world were missing every three pointer they hoisted. On the flip side though, better teams will find ways to mitigate the movement. But that’s sort of the point here. Greater variance causes more reaction from the opposition. That inevitably opens up other opportunities.

It’s entirely premature to anoint Carter-Williams a part of this rotation. But for now, it’s encouraging at the least to consider that the team’s wing depth may not actually be in shambles the way critics would have you believe. Things will really get interesting once the team welcomes back guard Brandon Knight.

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And we’re back

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.

in game coverage

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1:03 – Jeff Bzdelik’s retirement

6:45 – biggest surprise of 2018/2019

15:25 – biggest disappointment of 2018/2019

21:27 – greatest cause for optimism

28:48 – greatest cause for pessimism

39:45 – favorite moment of 2018/2019

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