The Houston Rockets ended last season as the preeminent challenger to the Golden State throne, but it’s been a downhill ride in the five months since.
General Manager Daryl Morey decided to test a theory that James Harden and Chris Paul could turn anyone into a viable 3-and-D wing, opting to let Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute leave the team in the offseason despite both having a sizable impact on Houston’s much-improved defense. Ariza’s departure screamed luxury tax savings, but Mbah a Moute could have been had for much cheaper. Evidently, Houston was operating under the presumption that both wings could be replaced, or at least that the Rockets could find reasonable facsimiles for the pair in the minimum market.
Enter James Ennis III, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Carter-Williams — yes, that same Carter-Williams who won Rookie of the Year as a point guard for the early-Process Philadelphia 76ers. So far, the early returns on that group have not exactly been promising.
All three of the aforementioned Rockets are currently shooting below 40 percent from the field, led by Anthony’s 39.8 percent clip. However, the Houston offense dictates that its wings shoot primarily three-pointers, so that will naturally depress field-goal percentages. Nevertheless, Anthony has made six of his 23 attempts from beyond the arc, while Carter-Williams is 2-for-7, so that isn’t the problem. The two of them aren’t showing much on the defensive end either, as Anthony has a net rating of -6.6 thus far and Carter Williams checks in at -20.6 (per NBA.com). Ennis, despite playing the bulk of his minutes with the starters, is also at -2.0.
The Rockets have played half their games without Chris Paul, and therefore have had stretches without a primary creator on the floor; their backup point guard, Brandon Knight, still isn’t ready to play after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Theoretically, this would benefit Anthony, allowing him more free reign, but we may be the past the point of hoping that he is capable of leading a good NBA offense, even for limited periods of time. Against the Clippers on Sunday, Anthony looked sluggish, unable to create separation against the likes of Tobias Harris and Mike Scott, not exactly world-beaters of their own. His continued insistence on shooting long twos, though lighthearted in the preseason, is maddening when the games actually count. As for his contributions on the defensive end, well, the less said, the better.