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[The Athletic] How Christian Wood went from 15th man with the Pistons to face of the Rockets

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Sooty, Jan 22, 2021.

  1. Sooty

    Sooty Contributing Member

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    In what now feels like a lifetime ago, there was a stretch of weeks in the not-so-distant past when Christian Wood was duking it out with 17-year veteran Joe Johnson for an NBA paycheck. Yes, that Christian Wood, the man who in a year went from a basketball couch surfer to one of the most intriguing and efficient big men in the NBA.

    This offseason, months after becoming a recognizable name with the Pistons, Wood signed a three-year, $41 million contract with the Rockets. It’s a significant pay raise from the non-guaranteed deal and uncertain future that Detroit offered him a year prior. For most of last season, there was a belief that when Wood officially became one of free agency’s marquee names that he’d re-sign with the Pistons, the franchise that provided him his first real opportunity and was pivoting toward a rebuild. Per sources, there was interest on both sides for most of the offseason.

    In the NBA, though, things change quickly.

    The decision to part ways has worked out so far for all parties involved. The Pistons instead used their cap space to gamble on Jerami Grant, a career side-kick forward who, with the role as top option in Detroit, has emerged as one of the league’s breakout candidates. And Wood has taken his success story from the Motor City and continued to add pages in Houston.

    “It’s a journey,” Wood said during his introductory press conference as a member of the Rockets. “I wouldn’t put it on anybody. It’s a journey that I’ve learned a lot from to get to where I am now. And I wouldn’t ask for any other way, because I know it made me who I am now. It made me have this chip on my shoulder. It made me have this determination to try and be better than everybody I played against on the court.”

    In July 2019, Wood signed a non-guaranteed contract with Detroit. After a short but productive stint with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Pistons’ decision-makers identified the then-24-year-old as someone who was worth taking a closer look at. After all, his abilities as a basketball player were always met with high regard. It was his immaturity and lack of professionalism upon entering the league that caused him to play in six NBA cities and China in less than five years.

    Wood wasn’t always on time to practice. He didn’t always pay attention to detail. Professionalism, or lack-thereof, was going to be the reason the on-court production might not see the light of day.

    “For me, I thought at a young age that my talent was going to take over,” Wood told The Athletic last season. “I thought I was more talented than everybody. It wasn’t that. I had to get the work aspect down. It wasn’t just about talent all of the time.”

    After decisively beating out Johnson for the final 15-man roster spot, Wood started the season coming off the bench for Detroit but was one of the more efficient scorers in the league. His offensive rating of 110.9 was tied for second best on the roster, and his true shooting percentage of 66.2 was 13th in the NBA (min. 18 minutes per game and at least 20 games played) from the start of the regular season to the trade deadline.

    At the Feb. 7 trade deadline, the Pistons, who had their playoff aspirations crushed by injuries to Blake Griffin and Luke Kennard, signaled for the first time that they were going to rebuild. The franchise traded cornerstone big man Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers for cap filler. This opened the door for Wood to take on a starting role to finish the season. Teams called Detroit about Wood at the deadline, per sources. His efficient scoring in a limited role intrigued other teams like it did the Pistons. The Celtics and Rockets were two of the teams that were in hot pursuit of Wood, per sources. Detroit, though, wanted to see if the big man could handle more responsibility before having to invest in the coming offseason.

    Once Wood became a full-time starter, he took off. Now with a larger role, Wood continued to prove that he was one of the most diverse frontcourt talents in the NBA. From the day after the trade deadline to the moment the NBA was shut down in mid-March due to COVID-19, Wood averaged 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from 3 and holding a true-shooting percentage of 65.3.

    For a month and some change, Wood was the best player on an NBA team. And while Detroit was destined for a top-10 pick in the lottery, Wood showed that he could be the new franchise cornerstone as it moved in a different direction.


    However, as the months passed and the league decided to restart in the Orlando bubble without the Pistons and seven other teams, Detroit made some organizational changes. In June, the Pistons hired Troy Weaver as its new general manager. Weaver spent the last decade as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City. His vision for the early days of the rebuild was to create a defensive-minded roster equipped with length and versatility. During his early press conferences, Weaver told reporters that Wood was someone of interest for the organization. Detroit had roughly $30 million in cap space to use.

    When free agency opened in late November, the Pistons shocked the basketball world by committing $60 million over three years to Grant. Detroit eventually executed a sign-and-trade with the Nuggets — Grant’s previous employer — to make the deal happen. Grant and Weaver have a relationship that goes back to Grant’s high school days in Maryland. Weaver believed that the 26-year-old was the ideal player for the type of roster that he wanted to construct. Additionally, Weaver thought Grant had the potential to be more than just a role player. In hindsight, Weaver’s evaluation and thought process has proved to be more than correct.

    During this process, the Pistons also offered Wood a contract, per sources. Detroit wanted him to be part of this retooling, as well. However, there was a specific price in mind. Detroit had Wood’s “Early Bird” rights, which meant that if it were able to sign him to a deal that paid, roughly, $10 million annually, Wood’s salary would only count as $1.7 million against their cap. Anything more would count toward the cap in full. Per sources, Detroit didn’t offer more than the annual amount that it would take for the smallest cap hit. The priority for the Pistons under Weaver was to acquire Grant, who, especially defensively, fits more of the mold of what the revamped front office was looking for.

    Wood and his reps then turned their attention elsewhere. The Rockets, who were now under new leadership but still interested in landing Wood’s services, stepped up to the plate.

    Last season, as much as Houston emphasized the need to go small for spacing and Russell Westbrook-related reasons, the internal plan was never to be exclusive. There was still a desire to add a skillful big man to the roster. The biggest benefit of small ball is the ability to play five out offensively and while that view has never departed, the Rockets believed that you didn’t need to be small to play that style — granted you have the personnel to do so.

    After trading Clint Capela to Atlanta for Robert Covington before the trade deadline, Houston aggressively pursued expanding the deal to add another center in the league-allotted window, sources say. Wood was among the options the Rockets pursued, with the team offering Isaiah Hartenstein and two second-round picks to Detroit, sources say — which Detroit turned down.

    When free agency rolled back around, Houston was determined to get the big man they had been keeping tabs on for five years. The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of in-person interactions — an underrated aspect of free agency — but that never deterred the Rockets from getting their message across. Internally, Houston saw Wood as the best offensive big man available during the offseason in part due to his versatility as a roller and floor spacer. With the direction the franchise was heading in — at least offensively — being able to do multiple things on the floor was seen as the best way to pressure opposing defenses. His potential and his successful stint post-trade deadline only increased his profile from a Rockets aggression standpoint.

    At the beginning of free agency, Houston reached out to Wood and his representation and told him that getting a deal done was a priority. The majority of interactions took place via Zoom, phone calls and even FaceTime.
     
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  2. Sooty

    Sooty Contributing Member

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    For Wood, the most important thing for him was talking to Rockets head coach Stephen Silas himself. The two had a relationship that dated back to their time together in Charlotte five years ago, but Wood was much more raw and younger then. Their early conversations centered on Wood’s development. Now, with both of their careers having seen tangible growth, it was a timeline come full circle.

    “The old days were more about building habits and what it takes to be a consistent NBA player,” Silas said. “Less about the game and playing, more about the maturity it takes to be an NBA player. Now it’s more about the responsibility of being a starting center, a go-to guy, the anchor of our defense, and all of those things. It’s definitely shifted in a big way. It’s a credit to him because he’s grown in so many different ways to become the player that he is today, but also the professional that he is.”

    Wood wanted to hear what Silas thought about the potential fit and what his offense would look like. Coming off the historic year Silas had as a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ staff during the 2019-20 season, Wood was intrigued with the thought of reuniting with Silas.

    In those conversations, Silas detailed a plan for Wood in a role similar to Kristaps Porzingis’ in Dallas. There was enough of a sample for Silas to see that Wood could do similar things offensively to Porzingis. Like his Mavericks counterpart, Wood can play the power forward or center position, although he has played the latter for the bulk of his time in Houston this season. Both players are blessed with a unique blend of height, length, and on-court savvy. Porzingis is obviously the more polished and experienced player, but Wood has the capability of reaching that level.

    Looking at their per-36 stats from the 2019-20 season, they were nearly identical to one another in most of the categories.

    PER-36 COMPARISON
    PLAYER

    SEASON

    POINTS

    REBOUNDS

    BLOCKS

    3P%

    2PA

    [​IMG]Christian Wood 2019-20 22 10.6 1.5 38.6 10
    [​IMG]Kristaps Porzingis 2019-20 23.1 10.7 2.3 35.2 10.5
    It’s still early in the year, but it’s been a successful start for Wood’s Rockets tenure, one that is more impressive given the wild and crazy start the team has had in 2020-21. He’s averaging All-Star numbers — 23.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, shooting 36.2 percent from 3 on 4.8 attempts per. Wood is second in roll possession per game and leads all players in points, according to tracking data from NBA.com.

    At the beginning of the season, Silas acknowledged that Wood’s defense would be a process. There were some early moments when Wood failed to assert himself in the middle of the floor and his teammates discussed the importance of him becoming a more vocal leader and an enforcer in the paint.

    Since the James Harden trade, Wood’s usage has increased to 28.8, and his defensive rating has improved to a stingy 100.3. As Silas has diversified his schemes, Wood has been able to adjust accordingly. The most important part of his defense has been how he performs in Houston’s drop coverage, a tactic that has its benefits but is risky against elite shooters. Wood has to pick his battles, when to show and when to hang back. Where he has excelled as of late is using his length to contest and block shots.

    Privately, Wood feels decent about his season so far but he knows there is still room for improvement. He’d like to get more consistent with his outside shooting, although it’s back up to around league average now, as well as get to the free-throw line.

    One notable area of growth for Wood has been his confidence. It’s no surprise to see him make a defensive stop on one end, bring the ball down the floor in the same sequence and score.

    .

    “I learn every game,” Wood says. “I feel like I’m getting better every game, especially defensively. Coach has that trust in me to bring the ball up the floor and make plays for others and I trust him too. It’s mutual.”

    Life for Wood is a bit different now having started the season with Harden and now playing with a Victor Oladipo-John Wall backcourt. But Wood’s determination and optimism has never waned, only increased. Against the Suns on Wednesday night, Wood sustained a right ankle injury and looked questionable to return for the second half. The team medics advised against Wood playing but he couldn’t leave his teammates on the floor so he returned, pain and all.

    “I was hurting the whole second half,” Wood said after the game. “They told me actually not to go in and play but I felt like my team needed me. My team needed to win this game. So, I have to sacrifice for my team. Whether it’s my body or shots or points or anything like that, I feel like my team needs me on the floor. That’s one of the reasons I came back out for the second half.”

    Wood is part of a team’s future. He’s one of the guys. Much of Houston’s success in the coming years will depend on his development and sustained play as a rising star in the NBA.

    It’s a far cry from where Wood was just even a summer ago.
     
  3. hakeem94

    hakeem94 Member

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    Wood is the new Harden!
     
  4. Houston77

    Houston77 COOKIES AND CAKE, MY TEAM BAKED!
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    Christian Wood is the biggest reason I don't think we should tank. We cannot waste too much of his time and need to be competitive to convince him to stay.
     
  5. BossHogg713

    BossHogg713 Member

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    Too bad he's injured. Thanks to our High School coach.
     
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  6. DaDakota

    DaDakota Contributing Member
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    Love this guy.

    DD
     
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  7. NIKEstrad

    NIKEstrad Contributing Member
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    I will say, Wood has looked better defensively in recent games. He's still not great, but he doesn't seem to be as obvious of a leak as he was earlier in the season.

    Some of that may be due to being on the floor with Nwaba and Oladipo and Tate (which causes other issues), but it's at least has some positive trend to it.

    Westbrook trade also reared its head here -- if not for that deal, we probably can more easily offer a first for Wood.
     
  8. Will

    Will Clutch Crew
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    Wood, Slow To Rise, Continues To Grow
     
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  9. BossHogg713

    BossHogg713 Member

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    Quote by: Ron Jeremy
     
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  10. lakersuck2

    lakersuck2 Member

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    To me he's the biggest reason we SHOULD tank. We need to get him a real partner not a bunch of broken outcasts. Wood's a real one he's not gonna be satisfied being first round fodder his whole career. He needs a real running mate and the only way to get one is to draft him.
     
  11. BossHogg713

    BossHogg713 Member

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    Honestly man, I think Wood really cares about crafting his game at the moment. The guy is still learning, he is not worried about losing / winning to that level. He needs to just keep getting better, he has a home here. 2 years from now if it looks the same, #PANIC
     
  12. lakersuck2

    lakersuck2 Member

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    Exaaactly. Since the Harden trade I go into each game watching pretty much just Wood and seeing how he gets better. If we lose, whatever. If we win, that's cool. Just take the Ls now while he grows into a superstar then in 3 years he and Cade/Emoni can run the league. He just needs a legit young running mate and not some recycled outcast.
     
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  13. BossHogg713

    BossHogg713 Member

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    100% agree. These are just players here to hopefully guide him on NBA life and teach him tricks.... but Gordon, Wall, Cousins, Tucker, Oladipo should not be here in 2 years. If you want a full rebuild, slash it out and start fresh. I hate the fact we really suck, but I am somewhat excited to see what a rebuild looks like. (SOME TEAMS do it the correct way)
     
  14. daywalker02

    daywalker02 Easter Egg Hunter - Tell me why? نحن عائلة

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    I am no fan of Harden's but that is like comparing Anthony Mason to Lebron James.

    Kevin Martin was the last guy who could score like the best but didn't win much.
     
  15. D-rock

    D-rock Member

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    Wood needs longer better defensive players around him for him to take the next step in his development.

    Stone needs to make a few more trades instead of sitting on his dragon hoard of FRP.

    Wood cannot wait for rooks to develop in 2-3 years, he needs help now.
     
  16. Highlyrated

    Highlyrated Member

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    I'm kind of surprised he signed with us for so cheap,yea I wanted the Rockets to sign him but I thought at the time he would demand atleast around 17 mill. Even at 17 mill if I was the gm I would of offered it to him.Those were my thoughts before free agency hit.
     
  17. tycoonchip

    tycoonchip Tilman has Aids!
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    Rooting for this kid. Needs to get helluva lot stronger. He is however the future of this franchise.
     
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  18. Icehouse

    Icehouse Contributing Member

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    How far would we have advanced last year if we were able to trade for him?
     

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