On Wednesday night, the Houston Rockets traded Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks for the 26th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Boban Marjanovic, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, and Marquese Chriss. The initial reaction to the Rockets’ return was extremely negative.
The four veterans they received are all bench players and are unlikely to finish the season on the team, and the 26th pick is far from a high-value pick. In recent memory, the best two players selected 26th overall were George Hill and Taj Gibson. While the pair have had long and productive careers, they maxed out as crucial rotation players. On average, the 26th pick produces around 13 career win shares, which is roughly the equivalent to Luke Walton’s career total.
Christian Wood is far better than the average 26th pick and has been excellent the past three seasons. His averages of 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game are borderline All-Star caliber on a per minute basis. Factor in his efficient shooting over the stretch, 59.2% on twos and 38.4% on threes, and the Mavericks landing Wood for a low-value pick and four bench players for salary purposes has the look of a steal for the Mavericks.
The Mavericks, for their part, should get an A for this trade. Wood is a fantastic pairing with Luka Doncic as a stretch-five capable of picking-and-poping and picking-and-rolling. Given enough minutes, he should have a career year right before he hits free agency.
What Trading Christian Wood Does for the Rockets
However, a trade can be a win for both teams. Trades aren’t a zero-sum game because each team has different goals. The Mavericks are trying to win now, and the Rockets are trying to win later. Moving Wood opens up minutes for Alperen Sengun and whoever the Rockets select with the third overall pick.
Another factor to consider is that the 26th pick may very well be used in a trade to move up in the draft. The Rockets have the third, 17th, and now 26th pick in the 2022 draft. A package of all three could theoretically be enough to pry the first overall pick. More likely, the Rockets will look to package 17 and 26 to try and move up back into the lottery.
Based upon historical pick values, the 12th through 15th pick is roughly as valuable as the 17th and 26th. The Hornets have the 13th and 15th picks, the Cavaliers have 14, and the Thunder have the 12th. Moving up only a few spots may not seem like much, but players selected 12 through 15 have historically far outperformed players selected 16 through 19.
Finally, the Rockets' new quartet of unwanted veterans can all be packaged for future assets. None will garner a first-round pick, but a contender may be willing to part with a future second-round pick expecting it to land in the 50s.
If the Rockets had traded Christian Wood and the 17th pick for the 12th pick and three second-round picks, the general public would have had a far different perception of the trade. For as good as Wood’s offensive game is, he is extremely limited. He is a poor passer and defender, and he doesn’t offer much positional versatility. There will be playoff series where he won’t be playable.
The Rockets' Grade
The Rockets' grade for this trade is a B. They missed an opportunity to trade Wood after his first season in Houston, and that has to be viewed as a missed opportunity. Would he have fetched two first-round picks? Probably not, but chances are they would have been able to get more than the 26th pick and the rights to relentlessly try and sell another GM on Trey Burke’s value as a backup point guard.
Wood wasn’t a part of the Rockets’ future, and moving him now is the right decision. Giving minutes to a limited veteran is fine if you’re chasing the playoffs, but for a team in a full-on rebuild, it doesn’t make much sense. The questions about Wood, namely his defensive effort and passing, weren’t going to be answered on this roster and his value was unlikely to increase.
The Mavericks got a better deal than the Rockets, but they’re two teams in very different situations. One team took an immediate upgrade, while another got better in the future. The Rockets didn’t get fleeced, even if the Mavericks got a good deal. Sometimes trades are like youth soccer, everybody is a winner.