It feels like forever ago that the Houston Rockets and Christian Wood agreed to a deal via a sign-and-trade on Nov. 20.
Since that day, the Rockets traded away Russell Westbrook for John Wall, acquired DeMarcus Cousins, and are still in the midst of dealing with a James Harden who failed to show up to training camp after reportedly requesting a trade to another(?) contender.
Despite all that, Rockets fans have remained optimistic because they acquired Wood. Wood is for sure, without a doubt, the feel-good story of free agency. Undrafted, a journeyman, never having found a true home on an NBA squad, the 25-year-old forward out of UNLV agreed to a three-year, $41-million deal with the Rockets this offseason.
The signing of Wood was more than just the first notch in the rookie general manager Rafael Stone’s belt — the 6’10” forward is a shift in identity. Houston didn’t want to completely rid themselves of the small-ball identity (let’s face it: with their current roster, they can’t), but the addition of Wood, and subsequently Cousins, gives them a chance to compete with bigger teams. The irony is, though, a player like Wood would have been perfect for last year’s team.
Whereas people thought Clint Capela would flourish alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Wood really would have been the perfect complement. Wood is uber-athletic, runs the pick-and-roll well, and can stretch the floor, shooting the three-ball at rate of 38.6% last season on 2.3 attempts a game.
Just look at these highlights:
However, it’s also hard to ignore the fact that Wood has had only one productive season in his four-year career. In 62 games and 12 starts last season, Wood averaged 13.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks on 56.7% from the field. What made Wood one of the more sought-after free agents last season was his last 15 games, where he averaged 22.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and one block on 56.2% shooting from the field, 41% from three (4.1 three-point attempts a game).
You could call that high level of productive a flash in the pan, but there are two important factors at play in his previous season. In the first 47 games, he averaged only 17 minutes a game and started once. In his final 15 games, Wood started 11 times and averaged 34.1 minutes a games after Detroit traded away starting center Andre Drummond. If his numbers average out to anything between the first part of that season and his late run, you still have a highly productive forward/center. Throw in the fact that 75% of his buckets were assisted on, and he will be playing with great guards like John Wall and (potentially) James Harden, and using the mid-level exception on Wood looks like a steal by the all-star break.
Another great, under-looked part of this offseason’s acquisitions is how incredible of a mentor DeMarcus Cousins would be to Wood. Not only has Cousins not shied away from saying he would be happy to back up wood at the center position, Cousins says he pushes him every day:
I’m here to help C-Wood get better every single day. He’s been a sponge since he stepped in the building. You can’t ask for anything more, coming from a young player. He’s extremely talented, and I’m here to push him and get him better every single day.
With the intangibles, skillset, and one of the best big men of the last decade teaching him a thing or two, Wood can be something very special for Houston.