Houston Rockets: Christian Wood’s absence proving how vital he is

Christian Wood #35 of the Houston Rockets puts up a shot during the second quarter of a game against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Christian Wood #35 of the Houston Rockets puts up a shot during the second quarter of a game against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /

Only a few weeks ago, the Houston Rockets were the hottest team in the NBA, stringing together six straight wins and posting a league-best 100.2 defensive rating over that stretch. And the most impressive part of all this is that the Rockets did all this without James Harden, the seven-time All-Star and former league MVP.

But in a blink of an eye, the Rockets’ fate changed. Houston went from winning six in a row and seven of its first 10 games after the Harden trade to now being on an eight-game losing streak.

What is the reason for this dramatic shift?

Three words: Christian Wood‘s absence

Christian Wood’s absence is demonstrating his value to the Houston Rockets

Wood, who averages 22 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game, went down with a gruesome ankle injury which resulted in him being taken off the floor in a wheelchair in their February 4 victory over Memphis.

The Houston Rockets have not won a game since then.

Coincidence? Absolutely not.

Wood entered the season as the Rockets prized free agency signing and many believed he and Harden would become the NBA’s next dangerous duo. And it showed in Houston’s season opener, as Wood scored 31 points on 14-of-22 shooting to go along with Harden’s 44.

This did not last long though as Harden was shipped to Brooklyn shortly after, forcing Wood to go from being one of the guy’s in Houston to the guy the Rockets would rely on.

Wood’s value to Houston is immeasurable and it makes perfect sense why the Rockets have struggled greatly during Wood’s absence because of how much he does for the team and how big an impact he makes by just being on the floor.

To start, Wood is a true stretch-five. At 6’10”, Wood not only dominates in the paint and a great lob target, especially on the pick and roll, but he also is a shooting threat. Currently, Wood is shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range, attempting 4.5 shots from beyond the arc a game.

Not only does Wood become a shooting threat for opposing defenses, but he also has excellent handles for a big man and both get to the rim and create space for a shot with his dribble.

Wood’s versatility and his ability to score the ball in a variety of different ways is special and something no other player on the Rockets roster can come close to replicating.

The evolution of Wood’s offensive skillsets truly makes him a guy that can score 25 or more a game while shooting at a high clip, something the Rockets have not had over their eight-game losing streak.

Defensively, Wood is a legit rim protector, blocking 1.5 shots per game this season. Without Wood, the Rockets defense is extremely undersized and has had to go back to the small-ball approach they used in the 2019-2020 season, which has not proven to be successful so far in 2021.

While Wood certainly has many areas he can improve in defensively, just his mere presence on the defensive end is something Houston desperately misses. As a result, the Rockets have dropped from the NBA’s top-ranked defense to now the 28th ranked defense, posting a defensive rating of 112.3 since Wood has been sidelined due to injury.

All this goes to show that Houston looks like two completely different teams depending on whether or not Wood is on the floor.

With Wood in the lineup, the Rockets are a team with a legitimate shot to make the playoffs, although they probably will not go very far. On the other hand, Houston has so many holes and looks like a team that could be vying for a top-five lottery pick when Wood is not active.

There are not many players across the entire league that mean as much to their team as Christian Wood and his absence has proven how vital he is if the Houston Rockets are to be successful in the post-Harden era.

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