Rockets to experiment with playing Christian Wood, Kelly Olynyk together

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Ben DuBose
·4 min read
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Early in the 2020-21 season, Houston Rockets head coach Stephen Silas referenced the possibility of playing centers Christian Wood and DeMarcus Cousins together. However, it only happened for six minutes.

The team never gave a detailed explanation for its eventual change in plans, but the most simple one is similar to why Cousins was eventually released. At 30 years old and coming off several serious leg injuries, Cousins didn’t move well, defensively — and playing Wood at power forward and Cousins at center would have severely compromised Houston’s agility and versatility on the perimeter.

That doesn’t mean the Rockets are giving up on the idea of pairing Wood with a second big man, though. They’d just like for that big alongside Wood in those lineups to have more mobility. That’s where recent trade acquisition Kelly Olynyk comes in.

After being traded to Houston from Miami in the deal that sent out Victor Oladipo, Olynyk started in place of Wood, who was out with a sore ankle and then due to illness. With Wood back in the lineup on Wednesday in Brooklyn, Olynyk returned to his expected role as a reserve.

But in pregame comments, Silas told reporters that there would be stretches where the two centers would play together.

I want to see them together, for not a long stretch, but a good amount of time.

When Christian goes out, Kelly can play the five. And then when Kelly goes out, Christian plays the five. Then Jae’Sean goes out, Kelly plays the four, and Christian plays the five, together. That’s kind of how I have it, in my mind.

The first sub might be where Jae’Sean goes out, and we have Kelly go out there with Christian. And let’s see what it looks like with both guys on the floor. And then, when Christian goes out, let Kelly play the five by himself.

Silas explained that the designations of who is the “four” and “five,” or power forward and center, were often interchangeable.

It’s very dependent on how they guard. If X five is guarding either guy, that’s a way we can draw a second defender. If it’s the four man, we may see some switching. So, who’s the four and who’s the five, on offense, kind of depends on how they’re guarding. But our offense is very much interchangeable, so that guys can be anywhere on the floor. As long as we’re five-out, I’m good. …

Kelly’s so versatile, and Christian’s so versatile. To have those guys out there together, makes sense to me. … I just see it, right now, as two versatile guys who are big and can put pressure on the defense, and also help our rebounding on the defensive end.

While Silas said his primary focus is on winning games in the short-term, whether the Wood-Olynyk lineups are successful could also have significant longer-term implications. For example, as general manager Rafael Stone indicated earlier this week, Houston has Bird rights to potentially help retain Olynyk once he becomes a free agent this offseason — and whether he’s able to play alongside Wood, who is the organization’s best player, could raise or limit Olynyk’s value to Houston.

Second, the success or failure of Wood alongside a more traditional big man could offer clues as to how viable dual-big lineups with Wood could be, in general. Hypothetically, if the Rockets ended up in a spot to potentially select University of Southern California (USC) center Evan Mobley in the NBA’s 2021 draft, it could be a useful case study.

The Rockets wanted to begin that type of case study with Wood and Cousins, but determined it wasn’t worth the effort. With Wood and Olynyk, it sounds as if the organization is ready to find out.

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