For players shipped from bottom-feeders to contenders at the trade deadline, the move can be an awkward one. They get to play meaningful games after suffering through a season of double-digit losses, sure, but their roles are often reduced. The 20-point-a-game scorer becomes an off-the-bench instant-offense provider. The primary ball handler becomes a spot-up shooter. The plays that built up their statistics in their old locales—pet pick-and-roll sets designed to get them one of their 15 shot attempts a game—are gone, replaced by all the stuff that has been working for their new squads. The boredom of playing out the meaningless string gives way in a hurry to the challenge of fitting in.
For Lou Williams, freshly minted Houston Rocket, it doesn't seem to be much of a challenge at all. Prior to the deadline, Williams had spent his year averaging 5.5 triples a game and leading the lousy Los Angeles Lakers in scoring. Thursday night marked his Rockets debut against the Pelicans, and early signs indicate a perfect match of player and situation. After Mike D'Antoni asked only that Williams "get his feet wet," he poured in 27 points on nine-for-16 shooting (seven of 11 from three) and seemed as at home in Houston's trigger-happy system as could be.
Williams likes to shoot, especially from beyond the arc; the Rockets like their players to shoot, especially from beyond the arc. Sometimes it is that simple. Williams' first three baskets were contested, jab-step-preceded threes that would set plenty of coaches fuming but that surely made D'Antoni smirk and Daryl Morey pat himself on the back. He later put up 15 in the fourth quarter, and even though the final frame was meaningless—Houston entered it leading by 33—the level of comfort the new hire displayed was not. Williams has always been a Rocket at heart, let it fly his statement of purpose; he'd just been temporarily marooned elsewhere. He's certainly truer to the ethos than, say, the shipped-out Corey Brewer.
If Williams' debut was a decidedly regular-season affair, a good team whooping a struggling one, then one play particularly showed how he might be of use come playoff time, when competition toughens and margins get thin. Late in the third quarter, James Harden came off a ball screen, did his magnet-and-metal-shavings thing to the New Orleans defense, and flicked a blind pass across the court to the corner, where Williams was stationed. He canned the shot.
When the Rockets go to the same action trailing late in a game in May, Williams will add to their stable of willing and proficient chuckers. He'll stretch an already-stretched defense a little more and give an already-ruthless offense one more means of attack. He'll do to the team what the team seems to have done to him: let it be more itself.