The Houston Rockets center has been one of the NBA’s most dominant big men so far this season — the unexpected rise of Christian Wood has put him atop the list of early candidates for the Most Improved Player award.
Averaging a team-high 23.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, Wood has taken his game to the next level, as he has proven to be one of the biggest steals of last year’s free agency period.
His three year $41 million deal appears to be a huge bargain for first-year general manager Rafael Stone, which has been one of the few silver linings for the Rockets turbulent beginning to the 2020-2021 season.
The Impact of the James Harden Trade
Rookie head coach Stephen Silas had his hands full in the early going catering his offense to the ball-dominant James Harden, who was traded in early January for guard Victor Oladipo and a bevy of draft picks.
But now, with Harden gone, Houston has been able to play a cleaner offensive style that doesn’t involve nearly as much isolation basketball. Thus opening the floor up for the 25 year old out of UNLV, as Wood has been able to feast in the paint with more post-up opportunities.
Moreover, new Rockets point guard John Wall has meshed well with Wood since the departure of Harden, as the pick and roll chemistry between the two has been uncanny over the last few weeks.
Houston is now winners of six straight — moving them into a tie for 8th place in the competitive Western conference.
So long as the offense continues to gel with the newly acquired Oladipo, expect the Rockets to be right in the thick of things come April.
Wood’s Rise to Stardom
Astonishingly, Wood went undrafted in the 2015 NBA draft, as questions surrounding his work ethic caused his draft stock to plummet.
Once projected as a first round pick, Wood ended up signing a Summer League contract with his current team the Houston Rockets.
Soon thereafter, he agreed to a four year deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, but it wasn’t until last year with the Pistons when the young center really started to make a name for himself.
Although Wood only started 12 games for Detroit last season, he averaged an admirable 13.1 points to go along with 6.3 rebounds, and really came alive down the stretch.
Over his last 15 contests in 2020, Wood put together 10 games of 20 or more points, and recorded double doubles in nearly half.
When the offseason finally began in the Fall, Wood had found himself with many potential suitors. He ultimately wound up signing a modest 3 year deal with Houston on the first day of free agency, and hasn’t looked back since.
Wood now appears to be in line to make his first career all-star game, as he now ranks top 10 amongst centers in three major categories (points, rebounds and blocks).
So long as he can stay healthy, expect the 6’10” youngster to notch his first career NBA accolade, as he should be a shoe-in for this year’s Most Improved Player award.
It will be interesting to monitor the situation in Houston as we get closer to playoff time, as many pundits wrote them off once Harden skipped town.
Now with a more established identity, the team chemistry should only improve as Oladipo gets more incorporated into the offense, and a lineup of Wall, the aforementioned Oladipo, Gordon, Tucker, and Wood could wreak major havoc come postseason.