With less than a month to go before training camp, the Los Angeles Lakers have finally resolved their most important remaining need in the NBA market, reaching an agreement with free agent center Christian Wood.
Christian Wood, who played with the Dallas Mavericks last season, will sign a two-year contract for the veteran’s minimum (approximately $5.7 million total) with a player option in the second season, according to team sources. authorized to speak publicly on the matter. He is the 14th player of the Los Angeles Lakers and the third center.
Once it became clear that Wood could be available for the minimum, he became the Lakers’ top target for their third big spot. For the past two months, Wood had been weighing the consequences of possible trades for Damian Lillard and James Harden, including the possibility of him finding a situation with a greater role and/or an above-minimum salary, according to league sources. league. But with Lillard still in Portland and Harden in Philadelphia, it was time for Wood to make a decision. He chose the Lakers.
There’s no questioning Wood’s talent or offensive ability. He was the best big man available by a solid margin and should bolster the offense with his multifaceted scoring and 3-point shooting.
The center, who will soon turn 28 years old, has averaged 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game in the last four seasons, in which he has played for the Mavericks, Houston Rockets, and Detroit Pistons. Last season, he averaged 16.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 25.9 minutes per game in Dallas. He is especially useful as a deep shooter, as his 3-point shooting percentage is 37.9% and he has made over 36% of those shots in five of his seven NBA seasons.
The first expectation is that Wood will come off the bench with Rui Hachimura as a probable starter in the frontcourt alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, according to team sources. At the very least, Wood will be the primary backup center behind Davis, while occasionally teaming with him in two big lineups. He should average about 20 minutes per game when everyone is healthy.
The challenge of Wood’s ownership is the same as that posed in any possible lineup of two Lakers bigs: it forces Davis and James to slide towards power forward and small forward, positions that they have been abandoning with age.
Davis played 100% of his minutes as a center last season and 76% the year before. James played 99% of his minutes at power forward or center last season. Using James as a small forward, which was more common early in his time with the Lakers, means he must defend predatory forwards like Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard. That’s not reasonable for a player who will soon turn 39 in Year 21.
Wood’s arrival also crowds out an already packed frontcourt. There are only 144 minutes available in the frontcourt for Davis, James, Hachimura, Wood, Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaxson Hayes, and Taurean Prince, and that’s before taking into account smaller lineups that would involve Austin Reaves or Max Christie sliding up to play. eaves. Hayes, who signed a minimum contract at the start of free agency, should return to a more appropriate role as a third-line center who likely won’t play every night. Vanderbilt, the top starter last regular season, will also see his minutes decrease.
Wood’s greatest value to the Lakers may be as injury insurance in the regular season. When Davis misses time, which seems inevitable, Wood can step in and take on a greater offensive role. (The same thing happens when James misses time, although Wood’s game is much more similar to Davis’s.) Wood can assume 20 percent usage and produce 20-point, 10-rebound performances.
Wood is one of the most skilled big scorers in the league. He is a weapon like catch-and-shoot and pick-and-pop. Last season he shot 41.8% from 3, an elite mark for any player, and especially for a center.
His shooting ability makes him a natural pick-and-roll partner in two-man actions with James, Reaves, Russell, and Gabe Vincent. The Lakers haven’t had a big man with this kind of shooting ability in years. With adequate floor spacing, Wood can feast against defenders who hang off of him.
However, Wood is able to break out of the “stretch-big” mold, displaying skills rarely seen in players his size. He is smart about relocating to open spaces away from the action. He will set a screen, fake a roll, or wait a moment near the free throw line, and then dart beyond the arc. His release is fast enough that unfocused help defenders can’t recover in enough time.
While the Lakers will likely give Wood the occasional post or isolation, his primary use should be as a shooter and pick-and-pop option.
REASONS FOR ITS LOW PRICE
However, there are reasons why a player as talented as Wood was available for a minimum contract one week into September. He has played for seven teams in seven seasons, and Houston is the only team for which he has played multiple seasons. Each situation quickly soured, with Wood losing minutes throughout the season for reasons that had little to do with his offensive production. He is limited defensively and has a questionable reputation in the locker room.
Wood’s defensive focus and effort can falter. He is prone to making mistakes, which is a problem for a team with title aspirations. Despite his limitations, Wood has physical tools that help him get closer to average. His height of 1.88 meters and his wingspan of 2 meters allow him to compensate for his limitations with lateral quickness and decision-making. He is more effective in switching pick-and-rolls than dropping back.
Wood’s signing means the Lakers passed on Bismack Biyombo and the chance to add center Colin Castleton to the roster. But they had to give up shooting or rim protection when deciding how to fill this 14th roster spot. The Lakers opted for the latter option.
There are legitimate reasons to be skeptical about Wood’s signing, but there are also reasons to be optimistic. His offensive ability and shooting ability can be a great addition to the Lakers. With coach Darvin Ham, James, and Davis setting the tone and culture, the Lakers are optimistic that Wood will commit to the team in a way he has never fully committed to in his previous stops. If he plays well and the Lakers win, he could be a very wise investment for the Los Angeles team.
Ultimately, time will tell whether or not the signing of Christian Wood will prove to be a wise move for the Lakers, but it certainly adds a new dynamic to the team and can help address some of the team’s key needs.