It’s a surprise to no one that the Houston Rockets are in rebuilding mode this season. Gaining experience was the much more desirable outcome than wins, especially with prized rookie Jalen Green being handed the keys to the franchise.
On the heels of a 15-game losing streak and with Green out since November 24 due to a strained left hamstring, expectations were that the Rockets would further put themselves in a position to draft the likes of Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith.
That hasn’t been the case as of late as they are currently on a six-game winning streak.
Although some of the wins have come off the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) and the Orlando Magic, there have been some strong performances such as when they played the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets.
At the forefront of those strong games has been Christian Wood.
Wood, who is in his second season with the Rockets (and is already one of the longest tenured members considering the high turnover within the team), has been the man in the middle for the Rockets. His per game scoring may have gone down from 21.0 (on .514/.374/.631 shooting splits) to 16.5 (on .464/.368/.574 splits), but his increased rebounding and assists (11.2 and 2.3, respectively, and both career-highs) point to an improved supporting cast that has allowed him to focus on other aspects of the game.
In fact, the advanced numbers point to this as well as Wood’s 18.7 rebounding percentage ranks in the top-15 thanks to his 30.7 defensive rebounding percentage, which is seventh in the NBA. His assist percentage of 12.1, which is a career-high, is easily three percentage points higher than his previous best.
Wood was instrumental in keeping the Rockets’ winning streak going thanks to a 118-108 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Both he and Eric Gordon led the Rockets in scoring with 23 points, with Wood adding eight rebounds and two blocks to what was a solid performance.
The Rockets also spoiled a huge performance from Brandon Ingram, who finished with a season-high 40 points. Although the Pelicans had the lead for much of the first quarter, a balanced effort from the Rockets allowed them to end the opening quarter with the lead. Gordon also scored 13 of his 23 points in the third quarter, helping provide a sizable cushion that the Pelicans could not overcome. Meanwhile, Wood made a season-high five of his six 3-point attempts, helping spread the floor in order to open things up for his teammates.
Wood’s strong performances, however, have not stopped the clamor for more playing time for the Rockets’ late lottery gem in Alperen Sengun, whose timeline would fit with the Rockets’ current objectives. Sengun has shown his abilities even in limited minutes, as he had 10 points, four rebounds, a steal, and a block in just 17 minutes. As the losses pile up, the noise for the Turkish big man to get more run will only grow louder.
On paper, it doesn’t have to be a one over the other scenario as both Sengun and Wood can coexist on the floor given their skillsets and certain parts of NBA Twitter seem to be intrigued with it as well.
The numbers, however, indicate that the Rockets may have to proceed with caution as in lineups with both Wood and Sengun, the Rockets have posted solid rebounding numbers but have struggled defensively. They’ve been able to control the boards, but as both aren’t the most athletic on their squad (and with Wood having recently dealt with a right ankle sprain), teams have been able to maneuver around them easily. Nevertheless, the chemistry is there.
Even with their recent success, the Rockets remain near the bottom of the Western Conference with a 7-16 record. Even with their current winning streak, they remain within the high lottery range as two games currently separate them from the San Antonio Spurs, who themselves have won four straight games. Their upcoming games against the Bulls, Brookyln Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks (twice) only further prove that keeping this win streak alive will be a tall task.
Christian Wood would certainly love to be in a winning situation, but it hasn’t deterred his solid production for the Houston Rockets this season. It remains to be seen if he will be a part of the Rockets’ long-term plans, but it would also unwise if Wood’s talents are left to waste.