Houston Rockets

Stat Just Happened: How Christian Wood can help the Houston Rockets get back on track

"Stat Just Happened" is our new series where we'll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, Houston Rockets big man Christian Wood takes the spotlight.


According to NBA.com, that's how many points per game Christian Wood averaged as the roll man in pick-and-rolls last season, representing around a fifth (19.7 percent) of his offence.

Why is it noteworthy? There are a couple of reasons.

First, it was one of the higher rates in the league. Despite playing only 21.4 minutes per game, only 21 players averaged more points per game as the roll man than Wood last season. That list includes a number of familiar faces, from John Collins, Domantas Sabonis and Rudy Gobert at the top to Montrezl Harrell, Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis scattered throughout.

Second, the Rockets generated very little offence out of the pick-and-roll last season. According to NBA.com, no team averaged fewer points when it came to the screener scoring out of pick-and-rolls. The same went for the ball handler.

That might make Wood's fit on the Rockets seem questionable on the surface, but his ability to roll at a high level should be a much welcomed addition to the team.

The Rockets aren't far removed from having a dominant roll man at the centre position in Clint Capela. However, Houston traded Capela to the Atlanta Hawks at last season's trade deadline to go all-in on small ball and open up the floor for Russell Westbrook, who has been traded to the Washington Wizards for John Wall ahead of the 2020-21 season.

With the Rockets now moving back to a more traditional lineup, what's intriguing about Wood is that he's capable of replacing a lot of what Capela brought to the table offensively and then some.

Not only is a 6-foot-10 big man who can play above the rim...

...Wood has the touch to score from floater range...

...and 3-point range.

Wood still has room to grow as a shooter from floater range, but he ranked in the 83rd percentile at his position in making 38.6 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, the bulk of which (81.4 percent) were catch-and-shoot.

The result? Not only was Wood among the league leaders in scoring as the roll man last season, he was among the most efficient. According to NBA.com, he averaged 1.50 points per roll possession, ranking him in the 95th percentile. There simply aren't many bigs in the league who are as comfortable as Wood is playing inside and out.

Time will tell if Wood can continue to score at that high of a rate in Houston - it's one thing doing it on a Pistons team that finished with one of the worst records in the league and another on a Rockets team that is hoping to make the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference - but he has the potential to diversify its offence by serving as one of the more dynamic bigs James Harden and Wall have ever played with.

The key will be getting the Rockets to run more pick-and-rolls than they did last season. It shouldn't be much of an adjustment for Wall considering it's long been his primary source of offence, but Harden became less and less reliant on pick-and-rolls each season under former Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni, relying more on isolation scoring instead.

According to NBA.com, Harden went from generating 40.5 percent of his offence as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls in 2016-17 to 17.9 percent in 2019-20. His isolation frequency went in the other direction, going from 23.7 percent in 2016-17 to a league-leading 45.0 percent in 2019-20.

James Harden's play type frequency
Season Isolation Pick-and-roll
2016-17 23.7% 40.5%
2017-18 35.0% 35.8%
2018-19 48.7% 22.1%
2019-20 45.0% 17.9%

Nobody should expect Harden to revert all the way back to the player he was in his first season under D'Antoni - Harden is one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league but he's an even better isolation scorer - but newly appointed Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said in his introductory press conference that he's focused on making the team less predictable, potentially opening the door for Harden and Wall to run more pick-and-rolls than they did last season.

"What I will do is try to make it easier on those guys, put in a few little actions that will make the defense have to make decisions and make them a little harder to guard," Silas said. "Be a little more versatile on the offensive end.

"Again, let those guys play to their strengths but make tweaks here and there so we can make that jump from sixth-best offensive team to first, second."

If they do, the Rockets couldn't have signed a better big man this offseason to be on the receiving end of those plays.

The proof is in that one key number...


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