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Michael Carter-Williams fitting comfortably with Rockets in preseason

Scoring double-figures in each of his first two games with the Rockets, former Orange Carter-Williams could accomplish the triple threat of hanging on, playing and winning in 2018-19.

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Carter-Williams senses belief already from his Rockets teammates. For the former Syracuse Orange standout, that’s a significant inflection of trust for a player thrust through the spin-cycle of NBA transactions — especially after two games played.

111 games played with the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t grant him any such security. An NBA Rookie of the Year award — the third from Syracuse following Dave Bing and Derrick Coleman — and posting averages that compared favorably to Oscar Robertson’s rookie campaign didn’t secure him in longterm plans in Philly. Through four years, he’d play for four more teams — the Bucks, Bulls, Hornets and now Rockets.

That turbulence lands players overseas, or at least in NBA obscurity, but for Carter-Williams it placed him on the team that came within one win of one of the greatest upsets in basketball history. Daryl Morey’s grand experiment of volume three-point shooting, facilitating through a pair of the best ball-handlers in basketball history and flushing dunks in the pick-and-roll succeeded to the point of Chris Paul’s hamstring giving out. What exactly would Carter-Williams then — a career 40 percent shooter and 25 percent outside — add to that?

The possibilities for him in the Rockets’ exceptional offense appeared through two preseason games against the Grizzlies and Pacers, where Carter-Williams combined to shoot 12-for-18 with 34 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Carter-Williams even earned a night off with a “sore knee” on Sunday, at least placing him above the lower rotation players pressed with eating the majority of preseason minutes. The rotation isn’t promised yet, but Carter-Williams showed in two games that his multidimensional game on the ball combined with his capability of playing the wing presents minutes in two areas. That’s something recently-acquired Brandon Knight, out following knee surgery for the moment, cannot do.

Knight and Carter-Williams were both involved in the trade that pulled MCW from his high-usage role in Philadelphia into a difficult relationship with Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, then unstable situations in Chicago and then obscurity in Charlotte. His shooting — Jim Boeheim said — failed to develop in part due to shoulder injuries.

Unlike in those situations, where he was forced to run second units, or salvage Chicago’s barren playmaking department following Rajon Rondo’s injury in the 2017 NBA Playoffs, Carter-Williams stood across from the NBA MVP James Harden on Oct. 2. It was the third quarter, but Mike D’Antoni rotated Harden into his bench unit.

Harden sliced into the paint following about five or six crossovers, pulling Shelvin Mack off Carter-Williams. The gravity of Harden propelled Carter-Williams into the paint uncontested for a dump and finish, Mack returning too slowly to pick up the coverage.

Carter-Williams scored 10 of his 19 points from nearly the same exact spot, point-blank range at the front of the net. One play he chased down an offensive rebound, popping it out of Omri Casspi’s hands to create his own scoring chance. On another, he finished through contact getting a pass kicked back from Paul on the fast break. When he drew 6-foot-2 Jevon Carter on the ball, he muscled through him to the rim for two.

Carter-Williams and Carmelo Anthony team up on the Rockets as two of seven Syracuse draftees remaining on NBA rosters, following the Pistons’ release of Chris McCullough on Sunday. While their tax returns will look very different this year, their path to returning to prominence on the top team in the NBA last regular season will coincide on the wing. Both Melo and MCW fit a profile where they don’t need to make plays — but can in a pinch.

Having multiple outlets of playmaking is key to constructing the best NBA teams today. The Warriors can play through Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. There’ll be nights Al Horford will rack up as many if not more assists than Kyrie Irving. The Rockets roll through Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon, but will also be able to count on Carter-Williams to create in spot situations without the constant pressure of facilitating.

That’s part of balance and trust. Houston bought into its system all the way down a 0-for-27 stretch of three-point shooting that spelled its doom in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, and will run it back again even as LeBron James and Demarcus Cousins become California tax payers. But the departure of Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza creates both an immediate opportunity and challenge for Carter-Williams.

On offense, at 6-foot-6, 190-pounds, he’ll benefit from the creation of Paul and Harden, the attention they draw and the mismatches he’ll hold over many guards and wings shadowing him. On defense, switching and small ball will demand he picks up players bigger and stronger than him.

The No. 16 Orange in 2012-13 last placed Carter-Williams in such consequential games. The preseason successes he’s attained in October aren’t that, but set the basis for a perfect storm that could boom or doom MCW’s continued survival in the turbulent NBA.