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Christian Wood reminds Pelicans what they missed out on in win for Rockets

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The New Orleans Pelicans were one of five teams who gave up on Christian Wood. And now, the lessons he learned in the Big Easy has the Houston Rockets on a five-game win streak. 

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

It’s absurd that five teams forced Christian Wood to leave their franchise. He is on the verge of his first All-Star selection and is the frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year. Thursday night, Wood declared himself as one of the league’s best big men — and he has every right to believe his statement.

One of the teams that gave Wood a premature boot was the New Orleans Pelicans. He signed with the team in March of 2019 and waived four months later. Although it has been close to two years since Wood last played for the Pelicans, it’s safe to say that New Orleans wished they held on to the 25 points and 9 rebounds that led to a 126-112 victory for the Houston Rockets.

“It was definitely a little bit of a revenge game. Some of the coaches are still there. David Griffin is there. I definitely wanted to show them what they missed out on.” — Wood

Wood had one of his best performances of the season on his old stomping grounds. He shot 11-13 from the field — which included draining three of his four-shot attempts from the outside. Wood’s ability to hit open shots was eminent to his play against the Pelicans. New Orleans started the game collapsing on Wood each time he put the ball on the floor. The Pelicans’ defensive plan gave Stephen Silas a chance to test his strategy to utilize Wood as a corner shooter.

“He has found where he can be successful, whether it’s at the top of the floor or finding areas in the paint. We are going to expand that to get him into the corners. It will make the decision harder for his man to decide whether they are going to help on the drive or stay home on the shooter. And Christian is one of those shooters.” — Silas

The Pelicans were the team that gave Wood his first real chance to prove that he could play in the NBA. New Orleans claimed Wood off waivers following a 13-game stint with the Milwaukee Bucks. At that time, Wood averaged only 3.0 points and 1.9 rebounds across 43 career games. And between Philadelphia, Charlotte and Milwaukee, Wood averaged 7.1 minutes per game.

Signing with the Pelicans was a career-defining move for Wood. On game-days, Wood played substantial minutes for a team in need of frontcourt depth. But it was the work Wood put in inside the Oschner Sports Performance Center that laid the foundation that has him towering over opponents in Houston today.

Assisting in Wood’s development in New Orleans was Anthony Davis. The Pelicans were at odds with Davis after deciding not to grant his trade request to the Lakers a month before Wood’s arrival. The friction between the two parties led to the Pelicans reducing Davis’ playing time and rest on occasions.

With Davis still around, he became a mentor to the player that watched him from afar for years. They spent a significant amount of time working together in practice, as Davis taught Wood how to be an effective big man in the league despite his lanky stature. The work Wood put in with Davis inside an empty gym came to fruition when the lights shined their brightest inside the Smoothie King Center.

“He is just a guy that is full of potential. I don’t even think C. Wood knows how good he can really be. He has a lot of similarities to Anthony Davis in L.A. The height. The ability to guard all five positions. The versatility on both ends of the floor. He definitely has the potential to become a player of that caliber.” — DeMarcus Cousins

Davis watched Wood shine in his absence during the Pelicans’ final eight games of the season. Wood averaged 16.9 points while shooting 53.3 percent from the field, to go along with 7.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Wood’s most important stat was the 23.6 minutes he averaged during his time in the Big Easy.

Wood described his short time in New Orleans as a blessing. He scored in double figures in six of the eight games he played. And during his season finale, Wood scored a then-career best 26 points and 12 rebounds in a 112-103 loss to the Warriors.

His stint in New Orleans came to an end during a busy offseason for the franchise. Davis’ trade to the Lakers, followed by several additions made in free agency and the draft resulted in Wood falling victim to the Pelicans’ attempt to trim their roster. The Pelicans waived Wood on July 15. Two days later, the Detroit Pistons claimed the free agent off waivers.

What the Pelicans passed on is now helping the Rockets succeed in the post-James Harden era. Houston is currently riding a five-game win streak and is back at .500 with a 9-9 record after Saturday night’s win. The Pelicans could have made Wood the centerpiece of their rebuilding project in New Orleans. Instead, they will have to watch Wood be part of a rebuild down I-10 West with the tools he learned in the Big Easy.

“I loved it here. I loved the fans. I loved playing with the team. I learned a lot working out with A.D. [Anthony Davis] during my time here. Coach [Alvin] Gentry gave me a chance and I ran with it. I did the best I could with the time I was given.” — Wood