Houston Rockets PF/C Christian Wood (25)
Wood’s path to this list has been quite different than the others who have appeared before him. Wood attended three years at the University of Nevada Las Vegas before declaring for the 2015 NBA draft. The young PF’s plans did not go to plan, as he left undrafted and awaiting another opportunity. Oddly enough, the Rockets were in fact the first team to give Wood an opportunity, as they signed him for the 2015 Summer League.
That was short-lived, however, as Wood made his NBA debut in 2015 for the Philadelphia 76ers. Wood spent most of his time (15-16) in Delaware playing in the NBA’s Developmental League for the 87ers. Then the following season Wood tried to make a name for himself on the Greensboro Swarm (Charlotte Hornets affiliate) but again struggled to gain his footing.
Wood leaves the states, takes talents overseas
Discouraged by his progress at the NBA level and bouncing around, Wood tested his talents overseas. The big man signed with the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association. The opportunities in the CBA were far worse as Wood was waived by the team before even playing a game. Wood in an interview was quoted stating, “I was stuck. I was lost. I didn’t even think I was gonna get a job.”
A tough reality for a player who at one time was indeed a projected first-round draft choice. Christian never lost focus and used his past shortcomings as his sole motivation moving forward. With his first opportunity back in the NBA again with the Delaware 87ers.
The New Orleans Pelicans in 2019 were the first NBA franchise to really gift Wood a major opportunity. The increase in playing time came amidst the Nikola Mirotic departure and Anthony Davis’ trade wishes spreading publicly. With the Pelicans’ backs against the wall, Wood filled the void better than expected. In the eight games, Wood impressed posting averages of 16.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.25 BPG.
The young PF turned some heads over this stretch, but ultimately New Orleans felt like they still had not seen enough. The Pelicans waived Wood in July and the Detroit Pistons quickly claimed the FA. Much the same as NO, Wood never received significant playing time in Detroit until the tail-end of the season. In his last 15 games, Wood averaged 22.3 PPG/ 9.5 RPG/ 1 BPG.
Struggling to make a lasting impression
This play again warranted a lot of attention similar to the year prior in New Orleans. Arguably over the late stretch, the PF was playing All-Star caliber basketball. Detroit wasn’t going to let Wood walk like everyone else, right? Wrong. The Pistons, similarly, were still not impressed enough, and Wood in a sign-and-trade deal was headed to Houston to begin this season.
Wood in his 37 games played in Houston has played with a massive chip on his shoulder and it shows. The young star never lacks self-confidence making it clear his biggest believer is himself. Wood has backed the talk up in his first season with the Rockets. Although he missed most of February and half of March due to injury, Wood has posted All-Star numbers in the games he has played, averaging 21 points and 9.5 boards the 25-year-old is the brightest young piece for Houston moving forward.
As a matter of fact, the Rockets lost all 17 games without their starting big man in the lineup. Yes, you read that right, 0-17 were the Rockets without Wood. Talk about being valuable.
If this season’s showing is not enough for Wood to get the respect he deserves, he may never get there. With Houston having a disastrous season amidst the Harden fiasco and trading of All-Star PG Russell Westbrook in the offseason HOU cannot afford to lose Wood. At 25 years of age, the young PF has not even hit his prime. Barring any health, setbacks mark my words Wood will be a star for years to come for the Rockets. Starting with his first All-Star appearance coming next season:
Oklahoma City Thunder SG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22)
The 22-year-old Canadian native has quickly become the face of the franchise in Oklahoma City. SGA in just his second season in OKC leads the Thunder in PPG (23.7) and APG (5.9). Sam Presti and the Thunder have to be ecstatic that SGA is now a member of the OKC Thunder. Let’s take a look at SGA’s path to becoming a cornerstone franchise player.
Shai attended the University of Kentucky for college ball. Wildcat tradition paved the way for SGA to add to the list of one-and-done athletes attending the blue blood school. SGA played just his freshman season (17-18) before declaring for the NBA Draft. On Draft night, Shai was taken with the 11th pick to the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets.
SGA was traded draft night, however, in a package that sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers. SGA played a big role for the Clippers as a rookie, playing in all 82 games, and started 73 of those games. The Clippers were not wasting any time, giving their young upcoming star opportunities. By doing so, the Clippers had an emerging valuable asset on their hands in SGA and other teams became interested.
Clippers trade SGA for Paul George
Despite SGA’s impressive rookie season and All-Rookie honors, the Clippers moved on quickly. An NBA superstar named Paul George was the main reason behind this deal. Shortly after the Clippers brought in Defending Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the offseason, rumors surfaced that PG-13 was next. The Clippers backed those rumors by mortgaging their future to obtain OKC Former SF Paul George.
SGA was part of this deal; Shai was an afterthought at first, considering all the picks Presti and the Thunder received as part of the deal. At the time, the Clippers were willing to do anything possible to land a Superstar level running mate for the newly acquired franchise star in Kawhi Leonard.
Shai making Clippers second guess?
SGA has continued to turn heads at the NBA level with his on-court play. The young SG has improved consistently every year in the league. With the Clippers falling short of that highly coveted Finals trophy in George’s first season, headlines were buzzing. Many media members and fans alike heavily critiqued LAC’s decision-making and questioned the state of the franchise’s future.
Shai played an integral part in the Thunder returning to the playoffs after odd makers gave OKC less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs in the 2019-2020 season. Shai was overshadowed in this regard because of Chris Paul and his contributions. But, do not let this camouflage the fact that SGA was the glue guy OKC needed.
In his first season in OKC, SGA posted 19/5.9/3.3 averages as well as being a very good defender. A lot like RJ Barrett, SGA uses his size and length to his advantage defensively.
OKC is SGA’s team following CP3 departure
Many NBA fans were hoping CP3 would return to OKC and run it back after a magical 2019-2020 campaign. CP3 had other plans, however, as he headed further south to Phoneix. With Paul departing the Thunder turned to SGA to shoulder the weight of the franchise. A tall task for a 22-year-old, but Shai did not disappoint and took his leaps in stride. Shouldering the load has not slowed down SGA at all, in fact, he continues to impress, specifically offensively.
Despite averaging one less minute played per game from a season ago, Shai averages have risen considerably. Shai is averaging a career-high 23.7 PPG on 50.8/41.8/80.8 shooting splits. These splits are all career-highs and the FG% and 3PT% are up quite drastically. SGA has turned into a three-level scorer and an efficient one at that.
Just how valuable is SGA to OKC Thunder?
The OKC Thunder are 16-19 with SGA in the lineup this season. 16-19 is far from impressive, but what about the 25 games SGA has missed? In those 25 games, the Thunder boast a putrid record of 4-21, and currently are on a 13 game losing streak; talk about opposites.
Shai’s offensive presence has definitely been missed, along with his quickly growing leadership role he plays in OKC. With the Thunder currently in a rebuilding stage and a seemingly endless amount of draft picks at their disposal, Shai could be the star the Thunder decide to build around next.
I see the Thunder doing just that and building around SGA. Shai is not quite to the superstar caliber level yet as he still awaits his first career ASG selection. However, I expect SGA to make that next big leap just next season. With a good shot of landing a top prospect in this year’s loaded draft and assets to bring in more via trade, the Thunder can not afford to make the same mistake the Clippers did, in parting ways with the young SG.
The Thunder need to do whatever they can to keep SGA in the house, and if they do so, look for the OKC Thunder to reemerge among the top teams in the West within the next few seasons.