The five Houston Rockets with the most to prove to this season
#4: Christian Wood
Few players have ever parlayed such a short period of excellence into the contract that Christian Wood secured from the Rockets. At the start of the 2019-20 season Wood wasn’t even in the starting rotation for a bad Detroit Pistons team.
However, as the Pistons sold off players to build for the future Wood was presented with an expanded role and thrived. Over the final 15 games of the season, 11 of which Wood started, he averaged 34.1 minutes, 22.3 points, and 9.5 rebounds a game.
The aspect of his production that enamored him to the Rockets was that he shot 41-percent from 3-point range on 4.1 attempts a game and 56.2-percent from the field over the final 15 games of the season. Wood’s hot 3-point shooting was not a small sample size mirage either, as he converted 36.7-percent of his threes over his first 47 games.
The difference between hitting 41-percent of your 3-pointers compared to 36.7-percent is not massive but it drastically changes how valuable Wood is as a player. If he can continue to hit close to 40-percent of his threes, as he did in an expanded role, then he’ll be one of the best floor-spacing big men in the league.
However, if his true talent is closer to 35-percent, that’ll still represent a quality mark but pushes him closer to the middle. Wood is on a three-year $41 million contract, which means the Rockets are hoping he is more elite than average.
Christian Wood will need to prove that his 3-point stroke is for real but the area where he’ll have to prove himself most is on the defensive end of the court. The Rockets are expecting Wood to be their primary rim protector this season and it remains a question if it’s a role he’s suited for.
Listed at 6’10, Wood has the height and length of a traditional center but his lack of strength could cause problems for him against more traditional low-post threats. While the post-up has gone largely out of vogue, it still remains an avenue of attack for the NBA’s best frontcourt players.
The reason Wood didn’t feature much for the Pistons early on in the season was his inability to fully gain the trust of their coaching staff at defending the restricted area. Those minutes were given to Andre Drummond, a traditional center, until he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers midseason.
Wood’s block percentage of 3.4-percent was 24th in the league last season but blocking shots and defending the paint are not the same thing. The Rockets are aware of Wood’s deficiencies in this area and will look to play opposing big men off the court through a spread out and uptempo offense to lessen his load against more traditional centers.
If Wood can prove that he’s adequate at defending traditional centers he’ll do fine rotating into the restricted area and defending the rim against on charging perimeter players. The Rockets have invested a lot into Wood and the good outweighs the bad but he has the potential to be one of the best centers in the league if he can improve his low-post defending to pair with his dangerous offensive skill set.
Next: Number 3