The NBA is shaped by its stars, and as a result each individual is shaped by their own star. With Christian Wood now a member of the Dallas Mavericks, the Rockets enter 2022-23 searching for their next team MVP.
NBA franchises, more than any other sport, are defined by their best player. In the eight seasons that James Harden played for the Houston Rockets, everything revolved around his unique and ever evolving skillset.
Front offices will do whatever it takes to land a superstar talent and figure out the rest after. Outside of quarterback in football, no singular player can change the fortunes of a franchise quite like an elite basketball player can. However, that dynamic cuts both ways, as Rockets fans became all too familiar with last season.
When Christian Wood is your best player…
Last season, Christian Wood led the Rockets in scoring, rebounding, win shares, box plus/minus, and value over a replacement player, and was their defacto best player. In many ways, the Rockets were a reflection of Wood. He posted solid numbers and flashed the talent that made him a fan favorite in his first season, but his inconsistent effort and lack of on-court maturity plagued him and the team. Even bad teams score 100 points, and Wood got his without moving the needle on the scoreboard.
After two seasons, the Rockets had seen enough, and Wood was traded to the Dallas Mavericks ahead of the 2022 NBA draft for a package headlined by the 26th pick and Boban Marjanovic. When your best player nets a return of four players buried deep on the bench and a late first-round pick, it tells you everything you need to know. Simply put, if Christian Wood is your best player, you’re an absolutely awful NBA team.
The Rockets are still searching for their next franchise player
The Rockets, entering the third year of their rebuild, have yet to land on their franchise player but have plenty of candidates. The hope is that Jalen Green, selected with the 2nd pick in the 2021 NBA draft, will become that player, but until it happens, the opportunity to be usurped remains.
The Rockets 2022-23 season will inevitably be defined by who rises to the moment and asserts themselves as the team’s best player. If Green makes a jump, it could be an all-together exciting season, but if he falters and Jae’Sean Tate (to pick a player) ends up claiming the mantle, I hear that Victor Wembanyama guy is really special. These are the candidates for the Rockets' best player and MVP in 2022-23 and the chances they’ll rise to the occasion.