The Rockets landed one of the more intriguing free-agent sleepers on Friday night, reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $41 million deal with Pistons forward Christian Wood. The 25-year-old became a late-blooming success story last season in Detroit and came on particularly strong in what ended up being the season’s final stretch, moving into the starting lineup in February and parlaying his impressive per-minute production into positive results. He joins a Houston organization in midst of a potential transition. Let’s grade the deal.
Any time you pay a premium for a player with a relatively limited production sample, there’s risk built-in, and Wood now joins his sixth NBA team in five seasons, having spent significant time in the G League throughout. Last year’s raw production (22 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per-36 to go with 56/38/74 percent shooting splits) certainly warrants this type of investment. He made tangible strides over the past couple years, and his ability to efficiently score inside and out is notable. Wood also fits well in Houston, who you’d imagine may play him at center assuming the team intends to play small again. Then again, Wood has never started more than 12 games in a season and has yet to prove himself as a contributor to a winning organization. It’s a pretty penny in a market where Montrezl Harrell and Derrick Jones both got midlevel. But Houston needs bigs upfront, and Wood is on the cusp of becoming a floor-spacing, shot-blocking starter if he stays the course in his development. His body type wouldn’t have played upfront in past eras of the NBA, but this is now, and these are the Rockets.
Keep in mind that this deal came as part of a sign-and-trade with Detroit for Trevor Ariza, and takes Houston into the luxury tax (for now). Ariza was acquired earlier this in a trade for Robert Covington that also netted Houston two first-round picks. It’s a decent series of transactions all around that will help the Rockets replenish their long-term stash of draft picks, and while Wood isn’t as tested as either of those players, part of the price baked in here accounts for his age and probable upside in his first full-time starting role. Houston needed help up front, and will now have to fill its roster out with mostly minimum deals. No matter what the roster looks like in a week, Wood is a solid upside bet moving forward, and in a vacuum, the price is far from back-breaking. And it’s a major win for the player, who appears to have found his first long-term home in the NBA.