Christian Wood has only once been employed by a good team. And that team – the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks – waived Wood in March after he played just 62 total minutes over its first 70 games.
Wood was picked up by the New Orleans Pelicans two days later and since then, his teams have finished 13th, 13th, 15th and 15th in their respective conferences. Among players currently on rosters, Wood ranks *eighth for the most regular season games played (222) without reaching the playoffs. And only two guys above him – Josh Jackson and David Nwaba – have worse records in games they’ve played in than Wood (69-153, .311).
* He’d be 11th if you counted three players – Lonzo Ball, Mitchell Robinson and Mo Bamba – who’ve been on playoff teams, but have yet to play in a playoff game. The leader among active players is Buddy Hield at 468 games without a playoff appearance.
Now, Wood has joined a team that reached the Western Conference finals a few months ago. His move to Dallas is an opportunity to finally win some games and partner with one of the best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the league. But this is also the first time that Wood will be under the microscope that comes with playing for a contender.
Here are some notes, numbers and film from Wood’s days in Detroit and Houston, along with how he might help the Mavs…
1. Roll or pop, empty-corner weapon
Wood is generally an off-ball player. The percentage of his field goals that were assisted last season (67.7%) was the lowest of his last four seasons, but was still high for a guy who averaged 17.9 points per game. In fact, only three players – Kristaps Porzingis (20.2, 75.0%), Desmond Bane (18.2, 70.3%) and Bojan Bogdanovic (18.1, 71.8%) – averaged more points per game and were assisted on a higher percentage of their buckets.
He’s a capable jump-shooter and not the most physical of bigs, but Wood can handle himself inside. In fact, he’s shot 289-for-387 (74.7%) in the restricted area *on the road over the last three seasons, the 11th best mark among 162 players with at least 300 road restricted-area attempts over that stretch.
* Looking at just road games for restricted-area shots helps address the issue of shot-charting inconsistency from arena to arena.
Wood was one of 29 players who set more than 1,500 ball screens last season and he rolled to the rim 57% of the time. That rate ranked 48th among the 80 players who set at least 750 ball-screens, according to Second Spectrum tracking.
Wood has good hands, allowing him to catch in a crowd…
As a big who can both finish at the rim or shoot from the perimeter, Wood is seemingly an ideal screener for “empty corner” pick-and-rolls, where there’s no immediate help behind his defender.
If his man helps in the paint, he can roll cleanly to the basket…
If the defense ices the ball-handler (with Wood’s defender in position to defend a reject drive), Wood can pop into open space…
And if the defense switches the screen, he can capably take advantage of a mismatch…
Though the Mavs ranked third in total ball screens per 100 possessions (87.1) last season, they were just 25th in empty-corner pick-and-rolls per 100 (19.4), according to Second Spectrum. It will be interesting to see if they make it a bigger part of their offense this season.
The Rockets, at times, had Wood shooting on the move. And he shot 3s off the dribble (38-for-80, 37.5%) almost as well as he did off the catch (96-for-242, 39.7%) last season. So he can side-step a close-out and shoot off the bounce. But with a slow release, he needs a little more time and space than some other shooters.
One other issue is his free throw shooting. Wood ranks 22nd in free throw rate (34.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 151 players with at least 1,000 field goal attempts over the last two seasons, but his 62.6% at the line over those two years is the eighth worst mark among 132 players with at least 250 free throw attempts. (Prior to his two seasons in Houston, he had shot 73.4% from the line.)
2. Making plays
Wood is not exactly Nikola Jokic in regard to dropping dimes. He averaged just 2.3 assists per game and 11.9 assists per 100 possessions used last season. The latter was the 22nd lowest mark among 109 players with a usage rate of at least 20% and lower than those of both Dwight Powell (15.1) and Maxi Kleber (13.6).
But both of Wood’s marks (assists per game and per 100 possessions used) were career highs. He can force things a bit, but he might do that less with a more capable team around him, and he’s shown that he can make the right reads…
The Mavs lost a playmaker when Jalen Brunson left for New York. Wood can’t replace Brunson and obviously isn’t going to run the offense. But if the defense takes the ball out of Luka Doncic’s hands, Wood should be able to take advantage himself or keep it moving.
The 30th-ranked ’21-22 Rockets generally had him in “drop” coverage to protect the rim. But he wasn’t a particularly good rim protector, with opponents shooting 63.1% at the basket when he was there. That mark ranked 51st among 90 players who defended at least 200 shots at the rim and was worse than each of Wood’s new frontline teammates: JaVale McGee (51.0%), Kleber (58.2%) and Powell (62.7%).
Wood certainly has the length to block some shots (65 in 68 games last season). But he’ll often defend with his hands down at his side and he can get bullied under the basket, both by guards with the ball…
… and by bigs on the glass…
Wood’s not necessarily going to put that skinny body in harm’s way. He was one of 21 players (a list that does include some pretty good defenders) who played at least 2,000 minutes last season without drawing a single charge.
When asked to defend guards on the perimeter, Wood has generally done so conservatively, giving them space to shoot rather than risking a blow-by. And with his length, he can do that and still contest…
Still, he doesn’t rate particularly well in isolation, with opponents having scored 0.97 points per chance when they’ve isolated against Wood over the last three seasons. That ranks 164th among 269 players who’ve defended at least 200 isolations over that time.
4. Four or five
How much Wood defends the perimeter vs. the paint could depend on who’s on the floor with him. As noted, the Mavs have a lot of playable bigs and indications are that McGee will be the starting center. Dorian Finney-Smith, meanwhile, played most of his minutes at the four last season. Depth is a nice problem to have, but it will be interesting to see how the frontline rotation shakes out when everybody’s healthy.
Wood played 669 (32%) of his 2,094 minutes alongside another big (Alperen Sengun or Daniel Theis) last season. The Rockets had the worst record (and the second worst point differential per 100 possessions) in the league. But they were especially bad, getting outscored by an amazing 16.9 points per 100 possessions, in those 669 minutes when Wood was the nominal power forward.
The offense was the much bigger problem, with Houston scoring just 95.8 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. Their defense was actually better in those minutes than when Wood played the five, but there was such a huge difference on the offensive end that those Wood-at-the-five minutes were much better overall.
Rockets with Christian Wood on the floor, 2021-22
|Wood on the floor||MIN||OffRtg||DefRtg||NetRtg||+/-|
|w/ another big||669||95.8||112.6||-16.9||-233|
|As lone big||1,424||110.6||116.1||-5.4||-173|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Now, most of those Wood-at-the-four minutes (especially those he played with Theis) came early in the season, when offensive numbers were lower league-wide and before Rockets rookie Jalen Green really started to show improvement. If they were evenly dispersed from October to April, there probably wouldn’t be such a drastic differential. But it was clear (and not too surprising) that the offense flowed better when Houston was able to really space the floor with Wood at the five, allowing him to play outside or inside (with no obstructions).
No matter what position he plays, Wood should be a good complement to Luka Doncic in the Mavs’ offense. Dallas already had a big (Kleber) who could both finish well inside and shoot 3s, but Wood is an upgrade offensively, especially in regard to his hands and his mobility. And the Mavs gave up very little to get him.
Still, to earn major minutes in a crowded frontline (and for a team that ranked seventh defensively last season), Wood will probably need to be stronger on the other end of the floor.
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