First things first: Troy Williams can fly.
The Rockets traded away K.J. McDaniels last year, leaving the team without a player who makes you catch your breath every time he leaves the floor. When they signed Williams last year, inexplicably released by the Memphis Grizzlies, they got that element back. After a surprisingly good stretch of shooting the basketball and showing himself to be one of the best players in Las Vegas this summer, the team signed him to a three-year contract.
Unfortunately for us fans, Williams has played just 15 minutes across two games in the preseason so far, compiling 12 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and shooting 50 percent from three. Even in the preseason, Mike D’Antoni doesn’t like extending his bench, with every member of the eight-man rotation, outside Nene, averaging more than 20 minutes per game in the first trifecta of games.
But here’s what we know about Williams, other than he can fly: he loves to play defense, using his elite length and athleticism to bother the wings he’s stuck guarding. He comes from a great basketball pedigree at Indiana University, which produced NBA players like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell and one Eric Gordon.
That’s basically it. The 22-year-old, 6-foot-7 stud is a basketball enigma, with bountiful potential in his lean frame, a shot that looks worse than it’s been in the NBA so far and a logjam of wings in front of him on the depth chart.
Starting on the wing is Trevor Ariza, and behind him, the players who will slot in alongside James Harden and/or Chris Paul, are P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon and Luc Mbah a Moute. Being the fifth guy at your position in the NBA means you’re only playing if something has gone wrong, and that is the position Williams finds himself in.
If he does see the floor, he seems like the type of player who would flourish alongside elite point guard play. He relentlessly looks to run — that was evident in Summer League — and can create fast break opportunities with his disruptiveness. Think Corey Brewer, but with a better jumper. How much better that jumper is remains to be seen.
I wrote this summer that Williams made Sam Dekker expendable, and I still feel that way, although Dekker was a significant regular season contributor last season, and it feels like Williams might not see much of the floor. Maybe D’Antoni is generous with minutes, or maybe lineups with Mbah a Moute playing a smallball center would allow Williams to see the floor alongside two of the wings ahead of him.
One would like to believe with the squad the Rockets have that the Toyota Center will be packed this season. If it is, Williams will become a household name even in limited bursts with his hops. He can use his often because, unlike K.J., he creates opportunities with his defense. You can’t run if you allow buckets, something McDaniels never quite got the hold of.
Williams is a break-glass-in-emergency kind of player for the 2016-2017 Rockets. He’s on a three-year contract, but is exactly the type of player who tantalizes Rockets fans in their youth and winds up as a piece in a Daryl Morey blockbuster. He also could see himself in serious minutes next season if CP3 and Trevor Ariza sign elsewhere in the summer.
His fit and minutes will work themselves. The loaded Rockets have that luxury. Every time he steps on the floor, however, he’ll be must-see TV.