The Los Angeles Lakers have been home to some of the greatest centers the game of basketball has ever seen. Purple and gold fans have been spoiled mightily in the past when it comes to big men .
Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shaquille O’Neal. Anthony Davis. Andrew Bynum.
In the present, one of those aforementioned names (AD) still sports an active LA uniform. But while Anthony Davis undoubtedly remains the top Center this organization has, there have long been rumors circulating regarding his desire to spend less time at the 5. With that in mind, the front office faced a tall (no pun intended) task this offseason to lighten the load for their frontcourt centerpiece of the future.
Many folks called for Rob Pelinka to target more of a “bruiser” to spare Davis of minutes at the 5. Someone in the mold of Bismack Biyombo and/or JaVale McGee made a ton of sense. Those guys are well renowned for their abilities as paint patrollers, rim runners, and screen setters. As we have seen previously with McGee, slotting a player with this type of skillset next to AD seemed to be a recipe for success.
While Jaxson Hayes may inevitably fill that role for this team, Rob Pelinka made it widely known of his intentions to bring on a 3rd big with a varying skillset than that of Hayes. We know Hayes can patrol the paint, gallop up and down the court rapidly, and set screens with his frame. We also know that he cannot shoot the ball and does not offer much on the offensive end aside from dunks and alley-oops.
So finally after weeks of speculation, the team’s 3rd big man was finally hired in the form of Christian Wood. It was a signing that seemed bound to happen for quite some time. Not only is Wood from Los Angeles, but he is also in the process of attempting to resurrect his reputation. As has been the case with multiple other career comeback stories in LA (example: Malik Monk), he will have every opportunity to prove his worth in the NBA this season.
Christian Wood brings a new wrinkle to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Wood brings an intriguing offensive repertoire to the team that was not previously present. While Davis is far and away the better overall player, Wood is far and away the better floor spacer. And when you combine his floor-spacing ability with his overall feel as a scorer, you could even go as far as to make the argument (brace yourself) that he has a more well-rounded offensive game than Davis. You can claim that argument to be baseless, but take a moment to ponder what Wood can do with and without the rock in his hands.
Envision an opponent missing a shot and Wood grabbing the board. Now think of LeBron and/or one of the other primary ballhandlers being denied access to the ball. Christian Wood might not be the first candidate on this team to bring the ball up the court, but he is certainly more than capable of doing so. And if the defense dares him, he can grab that board and maneuver his way all the way to the rim if his opposition is not careful.
Now envision Austin Reaves snagging a steal and pushing the break. It is a 1-on-1 foot race to the bucket, but quickly becomes a 2-on-1 as Wood has the foot speed to catch up in the competition of quickness. His athleticism and sneaky agility make him a viable running mate for any of the Lakers primary playmakers. But it is not just about his ability to get out and run the floor.
Wood can turn a broken possession into points. Get him the ball behind the 3-point line, and of course, he can knock down a jump shot. Beyond that, he has shown that he has quite a deep arsenal when it comes to making moves to the bucket from the perimeter. And if he cannot get all the way to the rim, he has also given us evidence of his ability to hit a pull-up and/or step-back jumper time and time again.
Down low, he is equipped with a nice bag of tricks. He may have a slender build, but that is not to say that he cannot finish through contact in the paint. However, it is his face-up game that makes his post-up game so salivating. He truly has everything you want from a big man when it comes to scoring points on offense.
Where his reputation has faltered is his ability to contribute to stops on defense. Branching off of that, his willingness to contribute to stops seems to be his true downfall on that end of the court. And where his reputation has really soured among NBA circles is via his long-rumored attitude problems within the locker rooms which he has come from.
Luckily for Christian Wood, he has a previously established relationship with Lakers head coach Darvin Ham. Ham’s coaching philosophy centers around defense and team morale. So while it is anticipated that Wood will have a prominent role with the team, Ham will undoubtedly hold him accountable. Assuredly he would not have signed with the team if he did not expect to play, and similarly, the team would not have signed him without first embedding their expectations of him inside of his head.
His head coach will definitely stay in his ear consistently, but his teammates will also be an extension of his accountability. We all know that Anthony Davis is a dog on the defensive end, and his presence will surely benefit Wood. Stretching further than that, AD will have no problem calling him out for a blown assignment.
We also all know that this may be LeBron’s final season with the Lakers, and potentially his last run at a title. Not only do we know that as fans, but every single one of the 14 players currently on the Lakers payroll is aware of that. Every single one of the coaches and staff members within the organization is aware as well. This is a crucial season for this entire franchise.
Christian Wood has given NBA fans glimpses of individual greatness over the course of the past few seasons. Now, he needs to unravel evidence that he can be a part of something greater from a team perspective. His comrades will do what they can to aid him in his quest to get his career on track, but at the end of the day, it is on him to show us what he is really made of.