ALL-STAR ASPIRATIONS

Here's why Christian Wood should be a lock to win this coveted award

Wood has been a pleasant surprise for Rockets fans. Composite image by Jack Brame

The Houston Rockets are a quarter of the way into the 2020-2021 season and have surprised many around the NBA with lockdown defense and selfless play on offense. It hasn't been a calm year for the Rockets with the departure of its face of the franchise James Harden, and they weren't projected to find an identity this early in the season.

That was until Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone's acquisition of center Christian Wood, who showed up firing on all cylinders.

Wood signed a workable 3-year, $41 million dollar deal with the Rockets, and the organization was projecting a huge leap from Wood this season after being slept on for the majority of his five-year NBA career.

Last year, Wood averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds with the Detroit Pistons, and most organizations weren't looking to sign him to a long-term deal. Teams were hesitant because it took him five years to prove he could be a starter in the NBA.

This year, Wood is averaging 23.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He's connecting 55.3 percent of his shots and 37.9 percent from beyond the arc. He is a sure lock for the Most Improved Player Award. With each game he is making his case for a spot on the Western Conference All-Star Team. He is the second leading scorer among centers in the conference. Deandre Ayton and Jonas Valančiūnas are behind Wood with their 14.4 averages.

Seven years ago Wood made a similar improvement between his freshman and sophomore years at UNLV.

“I averaged 4.5 points per game freshman year, and sophomore year I turned 4.5 points into 15.7 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. If that's not work ethic, I don't know what is," Wood told Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod.

Wood shockingly went undrafted in 2015, and signed with the struggling Philadelphia 76ers as a free agent. It was tough for a young, admittedly immature player to find his role on a team that went 10-72 that year. Wood was waived by the 76ers midway through the season.

He bounced around the G League from the end of 2015 thru 2018. He spent a brief period in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Fujian Sturgeons in 2017. Even they said he wasn't good enough and waived him. Luckily there was still a place for him in the G League with the Delaware 87ers, but time was running out on Wood's window to make it to the NBA.

Teams weren't calling. He could hear the narrative growing around the league. Was Christian Wood not good enough to play in the NBA?

A brief stint during 2018-2019 with the Milwaukee Bucks turned Wood's confidence around. Playing 1-on-1 against MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo every day assured Wood that he could compete with the best talent the NBA had to offer. He thought maybe I can play in this league. Pick-up games aside, the Bucks didn't find Wood worthy enough for a roster spot and waived him in March 2019.

The New Orleans Pelicans signed him two days later and Wood found minutes with Anthony Davis' absences due to trade demands and extended rest. Wood recorded multiple big scoring and rebounding nights with increased minutes. Nevertheless, Wood was waived again in July 2019.

Wood was picked up by the Detroit Pistons for 2019-2020 and finally found success in the league. All that had to happen next was for Wood to find an organization willing to give him a shot to be a key piece.

“I always felt like if I had the opportunity, if a team actually spent the time to invest in me, that I could produce and do what I'm doing now," Wood told Woj.

Enter Rockets GM Rafael Stone who recognized the production Wood would provide with regular starting minutes. And Wood hasn't let Houston down one bit.

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Yuli Gurriel had a monster night at the plate Friday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

Although they lost the series 2-1, the Astros ended their road trip with a nice win over the Yankees to head home on a positive note. On Friday, they welcomed in the Toronto Blue Jays and former teammate George Springer, currently on the IL, to start a three-game series and long homestand. They had an excellent night at the plate, along with a strong start from Jose Urquidy, cruising past the Blue Jays to take the opener.

Final Score: Astros 10, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 17-15, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (3-2)

Losing Pitcher: Ross Stripling (0-2)

Jays strike first, then Houston responds and never looks back

It first appeared that Urquidy may be in for a long night, giving up two solo home runs early in Friday's game, one to Bo Bichette in the top of the first with one out to put Toronto up 1-0, then another to Danny Jansen in the top of the third. However, Urquidy would lock-in, and his offense would back him up strongly.

Houston ended up sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on a homer by Carlos Correa, then later loading the bases to set up an RBI walk by Alex Bregman. In the bottom of the fifth, with a one-run lead at 3-2, Yuli Gurriel expanded the lead to three runs on a two-run shot.

Gurriel went on to have a fantastic night, going 4-for-4 at the plate with 4 RBI. His third of those came in the bottom of the seventh, extending the lead again with an RBI single to make it 6-2. Kyle Tucker made it a five-run game that same inning with an RBI double, then more insurance came in the bottom of the eighth. They reached double-digits that inning, with Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Yuli Gurriel, his fourth of the night, all getting an RBI to make it 10-2.

Urquidy finishes seven, then Emanuel finishes it off

Those gave Urquidy plenty of support, though he would bounce back after the two early homers and have a nice night on the mound. He allowed just two other hits, working around both, en route to a seven-inning two-run performance to earn him the win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 84 P.

He likely could have gone longer, but Dusty Baker turned the ball over to Kent Emanuel to wrap things up with the significant lead. He did so, despite allowing a two-run home run to former-Astro Teoscor Hernandez in the top of the ninth to make the score 10-4. The win kept the Astros above .500 and two games back of the A's, who sit atop the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be a 6:10 PM start Saturday night. The pitching matchup will be Steven Matz (4-2, 4.78 ERA) for Toronto and the electric Cristian Javier (3-0, 1.75 ERA) for Houston.

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