3 reasons Christian Wood moves the needle for Lakers

Back when the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year, possibly under-market deal in advance of the 2018-19 season, folks around the league suggested that Golden State’s new glut of talent effectively undid any semblance of competitive balance in the NBA. Similarly, when the Nets landed LaMarcus Aldridge after being bought out by the Spurs in 2021, to many, it felt like, again, the teams richest in talent just kept getting richer, and a Nets championship was a foregone conclusion.

Not only did neither of those teams end up with the season’s ultimate trophy, neither of those supposedly game-breaking signings ultimately made much of a difference to their team’s respective outcomes. At the end of the day, it was the injuries and departures of the two teams’ superstars that did them in, not the contributions — or lack thereof — of past-their-prime centers.

Unlike in the aforementioned pair of circumstances, comparatively little has been made of Christian Wood signing with the Lakers since the news of their agreement broke on Tuesday night. While Wood lacks the All-Star and All-NBA resumes of Cousins or Aldridge, he also lacks the age or injury history of either member of that pairing at the time they signed with the Warriors and Nets, respectively. Further, Wood’s contract is the team-friendliest of the trio, signing for less than Boogie (only the veteran’s minimum), and for longer than LMA (the whole season, with a player option in year two).

Despite being buried after the end of the summer but before the start of the season, the Christian Wood signing is something that should matter to not only Laker fans, but those with any stake in this upcoming season.

Here are three reasons to think that adding Wood tweaks the Lakers’ chances in 2023-24:

He juices an inconsistent half-court offense

Despite their mid-season turnaround and playoff successes, the Lakers’ half-court offense was never actually very good last season (16th-ranked offense after Feb. 8). Instead, it was their uber-elite defense that propelled their resurgence.

Part of the problem last year was a lack of shooting, an issue that was exacerbated by their top two players’ decline in that area. Although LeBron James remains one of the league’s premier open-court threats (2nd in the NBA in transition points per game), his regression as a jump-shooter (32.1 3PT%) cramped the floor for the Lakers in the half-court. With Anthony Davis’s turning into a virtual non-shooter from beyond the arc (25.7 3PT%), the Lakers consistently had to fight through a packed paint to get easy baskets.

Although they’ve added shooting this offseason in players like Taurean Prince and (arguably) Gabe Vincent, none of the new Lakers stretch the floor with size quite like Christian Wood has proven he can. As a 38.2% three-point shooting over the past four seasons, Wood has the body of work to show that he’s the kind of knock-down, high-volume 3-point shooter who defenses will have to respect from deep. Even more importantly, he shot even better on catch-and-shoot threes (41.8%) and on the often overlooked, yet critical, above-the-break threes (39%), providing grounds to think he’ll be able to excel beside the Lakers’ star playmakers.

In addition to shooting effectively off of passes from advantage-creating teammates, he can do so quickly, without bucking the team’s offensive flow. Last season, Wood took the majority of his shot attempts without dribbling beforehand, and in total scored at an above-average efficiency, making him a potent offensive threat who doesn’t need to run the show on offense to get going. Overall, he s

Wood’s ability as an off-ball scorer gives the Lakers a guy who can consistently bend defenses by pulling them away from the basket — the very place the Lakers’ superstar duo does the bulk of their damage, and where their jump-shooting guards could stand to do a bit more.

Additionally, Wood’s smooth and explosive finishing around the basket makes him one of the rare bigs who is a genuine inside-out threat, making him a clean offensive fit in almost any lineup.

To put a statistical point on his rare combo of size and skill, he was one of just six players last season to score at least 16 points per game, snag 7 rebounds, and shoot over 37% from beyond the arc, and the only one who will earn under $18 million this upcoming season.

The reason this isn’t like signing post-Achilles tear Boogie or 35-year-old LMA is because Wood’s one of the league’s most talented scoring bigs, and there’s just no reason to believe that, at age 27, he’s washed up like those two.

The Lakers can cover up his weaknesses

Despite Christian Wood’s reputation for being a one-way talent, there are some ways in which he impacts the game positively on the defensive end, especially if he’s slotted into lineups that accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

Although Wood struggles defensively in some ways, it actually isn’t as the fulcrum of a defense. He’s only average at deterring shots at the rim, but the B-Ball Index likes him as a solid-to-elite rim protector in every other one of its interior defense metrics.

Stats via B-Ball Index.

Given that he’s long and coordinated, it makes sense that he gives opponents trouble when they challenge him at the basket.

However, Wood struggles miserably when pulled away from the rim. He has trouble staying attached to opponents, especially those who challenge him to stay engaged in long possessions and away from the ball. If there’s one disaster zone in his analytic portfolio, it’s here:

Perhaps counterintuitively, these divergent skillsets make him a better backup center than power forward on defense. Since he’s good-to-great around the hoop and a sieve away from it, he should benefit from the kind of “centerfield” drop defense that Darvin Ham likes to run, as opposed to the more frequently switching scheme Jason Kidd ran in Dallas.

Wood is also one of the league’s best defensive rebounders, finishing 15th in defensive rebounds per 75 possessions among qualified players. His decent rim protection and solid rebounding should give him a chance to prove he’s the Lakers’ second-best defensive drop big on the roster.

While the Lakers’ best center obviously outclasses Wood as a rim protector, the Lakers might be better off allowing AD to roam around on 4s with Wood hanging back in the paint whenever they share the floor. Although this might seem like some radical defensive concept, it’s basically what the Bucks do with Brook Lopez and and Giannis Antetokounmpo, as well as what the Lakers did in the playoffs whenever they moved Rui Hachimura onto the opposition’s center.

Additionally, this allows the Lakers to appease Anthony Davis, as he has long wished to scale back on spending the overwhelming majority of his minutes at center. Since the 2020 title season — when he played 91 percent of his minutes at power forward — AD’s played no less than three-quarters of his minutes at the center position, a trend he openly hopes to undo. Further, as demonstrated during the Western Conference Semifinals, Davis has shown he has the lateral agility to be a disruptive force on the perimeter when switched out there. Also, this setup keeps a solid rebounder and rim protector in the paint if opponents attempt to switch-hunt Davis away from it, a tactic the Lakers struggled to combat without a solid secondary rim protector in their second round playoff series against the Warriors.

Further, unlike Wood, AD’s actually pretty good when asked to slide with smaller players, using his twitchiness, timing, and length to overwhelm smaller opponents even when he lacks their agility and speed.

Anthony Davis locking down a 2xMVP in his peak.

A top 10 player of all time.

Your center guarding a PG with the best shot and handles ever.

Special. pic.twitter.com/xzuxp5irZN

— LakerTalks (@LakerTalks) May 9, 2023

Despite being somewhat counterintuitive, Christian Wood’s a better fit at the 5 than at the 4 defensively, including when he plays next to Anthony Davis, even if the opposite is intuitively obvious on offense.

He needs the Lakers more than they need him

For a guy as talented as Christian Wood is, to be on your eighth team in as many NBA seasons is a major red flag. Despite his impressive total talent, teams have repeatedly refrained from locking him into long-term security with a major payday, instead letting him sign somewhere else on another short-term deal. Indeed, Wood lacked a suitor willing to offer him serious money this offseason, clearing a path for the Lakers to swoop in and land him on the minimum.

Still, not all of the losing that Wood’s done in his career has been his fault. Since he broke out at the end of his third NBA season with the Pelicans, he played for two disastrously bad teams in Detroit and Houston before heading to the Mavericks. Although the Mavs were the best of that group, they needed Wood’s offensively slanted contributions the least after they traded their entire perimeter defense for a top-flight playmaker in Kyrie Irving who was somewhat redundant to the better one they already had in Luka Doncic.

As to the accusations of putting himself before the team, he scores prolifically, efficiently, and consistently, so it’s hard to fault him on that end. On defense, it’s absolutely fair to acknowledge his effort comes and goes at times, which is something the Lakers will need him to correct in their system.

To that point, no team Wood’s played for has ever had this much leverage over him in terms of mandating that effort and attitude on a night-to-night basis. On losing teams, Wood’s superior talent guaranteed him minutes regardless of whether he played hard for the full 48. If he slacks off with the Lakers, he simply won’t play. Ultimately, Wood is the cherry atop a Western Conference Finals sundae, not the player the Lakers are banking on building around on either end of the floor. If that cherry turns out to be sour, the sundae will taste just fine without it.

And if Wood doesn’t play, he won’t have a chance to earn that near-max contract he’s yet to land after almost a decade in the league. Therefore, Wood will be incentivized like never before to buy into what the Lakers are doing with his whole heart. If he does, he won’t be the first to do it in L.A. either, since the LeBron-era Lakers have repeatedly made reclamation projects out of infamously disgruntled vets who looked to be on their way out of the league (see ‘19-20 Dwight Howard, ‘19-20 Rajon Rondo, ‘22-23 Dennis Schroder, et al).

Anyways, not that a tweet can be dispositive of Wood’s true disposition, but Wood seems to be genuinely excited about joining the Lakers. Not only did he voice his satisfaction with his new NBA home after the news broke, the Long Beach native even named his son Kobe in honor of the Lakers legend.

If Wood can’t figure out a way to stick in the Lakers’ lineup and becomes an unsupportive presence on the bench, the Lakers can just buy him out and replace him. All told, Wood’s chances of hitting it big with the Lakers are unquestionably iffy. Still, there are reasons to think that he can, and even if he doesn’t, it’ll cost the Lakers almost as little as is legally allowed under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

No matter how this ultimately goes, Christian Wood’s signing is a home run that caps off what was already a stellar summer for the Lakers.

Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley — no, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can find him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.

Source link : https://www.silverscreenandroll.com/2023/9/9/23863680/christian-wood-lakers-anthony-davis-free-agent-contract-lebron-mavs-luka-kyrie

Author : Cooper Halpern

Publish date : 2023-09-09 15:24:00

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