It was only two months ago when Houston Rockets head coach Stephen Silas was openly discouraged about the production from dual-big lineups featuring Christian Wood and rookie Alperen Sengun.
But that dynamic has changed since the All-Star break in mid-February. Among Houston’s two-player combinations to have played at least 50 minutes together, the Wood-Sengun pairing entered Wednesday with the best net rating (+10.6) of any on the team over that span.
Though Wood’s career-high 39 points were the leading storyline in Monday’s comeback win over Washington, the 26-year-old big man went out of his way to credit the rookie for his defensive play — which allows the slender Wood to play more to his body type on the perimeter.
“It really starts with me and Al-P and our defensive presence,” Wood said postgame of Sengun. “He was playing the five. He was doing a good job on Kristaps Porzingis.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game in Dallas, Silas was asked about the encouraging data and factors sparking the duo’s resurgence. He replied:
I had a conversation with Christian about that today. They’ve played well together.
Christian has proven that he can defend certain guys on the perimeter well. He shouldn’t be guarding guys running off screens, and running around, and whatnot. But if he’s in help, he’s a good helper. He can be a good low man.
And Al-P, if he can stay out of foul trouble with his technique — which is getting better and better, as we’ve seen — can defend fives. He can hold his ground, and be physical, and rebound.
Asked Stephen Silas about the success of the double-big lineups with Wood and Sengun: "I had a conversation with Christian about that today. They've played well together. Christian has proven that he can defend certain guys on the perimeter well." pic.twitter.com/gmWtwCwozy
— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) March 23, 2022
For the 2021-22 season, the Rockets rank dead last among 30 NBA teams in defensive rating (116.3 entering Wednesday). But in 14 games since the All-Star break, which is when the Sengun-Wood pairing has taken on slightly greater prominence, Houston has risen from No. 30 to No. 20.
It’s certainly not a game-changing jump, but in a rebuilding year focused on growth and development by young players, it’s a storyline to monitor over the season’s final 10 games as the Rockets seek to determine what their roster and lineup configurations should be in the 2022-23 season.