On his 27th birthday, Christian Wood acknowledged the low expectations that surround the young Houston Rockets this season. But despite what many around the NBA are characterizing as the early stages of a rebuild, Wood indicated at Monday’s media day that he isn’t giving up on the short-term — and one big reason is the confidence he has in himself.
For the 2020-21 season overall, Wood posted strong numbers in his first year as a consistent NBA starter, averaging 21.0 points (51.4% FG, 37.4% on 3-pointers) and 9.6 rebounds in 32.3 minutes per game. But the 6-foot-10 big man was even better in the 17 games prior to a severe ankle sprain on Feb. 4 in Memphis. During that stretch, Wood shot 55.8% from the field and 42.1% on 3-pointers, and his added explosiveness allowed him to collect more rebounds and blocked shots, as well.
Prior to the injury, Wood was drawing All-Star consideration, and the Rockets were in a stretch with seven wins in eight games. When Wood finally returned in late March, he was often grimacing and hobbled, and never had quite the same burst or overall effectiveness as he did before. Ultimately, he had to end his season early.
But after taking a few weeks to rest and allow the ankle to fully heal, Wood said Monday that he’s at 100 percent entering 2021-22. As a result, Wood’s expectations are high entering the new season — both for himself and his team, which he’s practiced alongside in recent weeks.
I’m excited. I feel like we have a nice group of young guys who are very, very talented. J-Green [Jalen] has impressed me the most, just in terms of his versatility and him being able to shoot, and he’ll be able to drive with his athleticism. He’s been impressive.
KP [Kevin Porter Jr.], he’s been playing to his strengths, he’s been playing the one in some 5-on-5. We’ve been looking great. We’re ready to run and gun. … I’m embracing more of a leadership role with the younger guys.
For himself personally, Wood identified finishing, shooting, and passing — specifically out of double teams, which he expects to see more of this season — as offseason points of emphasis. He also said he believes his offseason fitness regimen has ended his troublesome ankle issues.
“I think I only gave you guys 41 games last year,” Wood said at media day. “I expect to give you guys more games.”
When asked whether he sees himself as a power forward (perhaps starting next to Daniel Theis) or a center (likely next to Jae’Sean Tate) in 2021-22, Wood downplayed the importance of position labels.
I think with my game, it’s become so positionless. I’ve told Coach [Silas] and Raf [Rafael Stone] that I want to play one through five. I want to be able to guard every position. I think this year, you should see me switching onto more ball screens defensively, and taking the ball up the court, and getting guys in more actions. I just want to be more involved on offense, in terms of getting everybody involved.
With regards to Silas specifically, Wood said his relationship with Houston’s second-year coach grew quite a bit in the offseason.
He came to see me in Miami. He came to see me in certain places that I was training and working out. We’ve had dinner together and sat down. For the first time in my career, there’s a coach actually doing that much for me. It means a lot. Like I’ve said before, I did come here for Silas. He believes in me, and I believe in this organization.
Christian Wood said Coach Silas went to watch him work out in other cities and it meant a lot to him. Reaffirmed that Silas was the reason he joined the Rockets. Says the organization believed in him and he believes in the organization.
— Rob Kimbell (@RobKSports) September 27, 2021
But as Wood sees it, individual goals are secondary to team ones.
“My main thing is wins,” Wood said. “I’m not focused on the All-Star Game or what my individual goals are. I’m focused more on team goals, and I feel like all the individual goals will come if we win.”
When asked later whether Wood views himself as a star in the league, he said he did, but added that wins are necessary to bolster that case.
“I believe I’m a star right now,” Wood told reporters Monday. ” To expand, I think it comes down to winning. I had a losing season, last season. It’s not a secret. To prove your worth and who you are in this league, I think you have to win, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
While he’s not predicting a perfect season, it certainly sounds as if Wood has much higher expectations than the injury plagued 2020-21 year that ended with the Rockets finishing with the NBA’s worst record (17-55).
“I’m not going to tell you that we’re going to go 81-0 [82-0] in the season, but the sky is the limit,” Wood said. “If we stay together and we build on what we have right now, and we could bring in a little bit more talent, the sky’s the limit for us. I think we’re doing a great job and I like where we’re at right now, and I’m happy to be in Houston.”