Houston Rockets hope to leverage Eric Gordon and Christian Wood for a brighter future

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With the exception of an inexplicable seven-game winning streak from late November to early December, the highs have mostly been valleys for the Houston Rockets. Last in the Western Conference in the first full year of their post-James Harden rebuild, the Rockets have some potential trade chips to play before the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline.

Houston acquired what it hopes will be the first piece of the rebuild last summer. The Rockets took guard Jalen Green with the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

The Rockets are poised to be a top three team with a 14% chance of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the May 17 NBA Draft Lottery. But they have a few players who could earn more of the valuable future assets rebuilding teams need.

Christian Wood may not be the Houston Rockets’ best trade play

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The Houston Rockets picked up center Christian Wood in a November 2020 signing and trade from the Detroit Pistons. A future first-round pick from Detroit is more valuable, but the selection won’t budge in 2022 due to his top-16 protection.

Wood is averaging a double-double, leading Houston with 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. But the 26-year-old was handed a one-game ban in early January for refusing to enter a game after being benched for breaching a team rule.

That helped fuel speculation that he might not stay in Houston past the NBA trade deadline.

The big, well-traveled man bet on himself, entering the 2015 NBA draft after his second season at UNLV. After going undrafted, he rebounded from the Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans his first four professional seasons and played the 2017-18 season in the G League.

A breakout campaign with the Pistons earned him a three-year salary of $41 million, with one year and $14.3 million remaining on that deal. His effectiveness has waned this season. Wood is shooting 54.8 percent from 2 points and 36.6 percent on 4.8 attempts per game from deep.

His size and shot might be appealing to a deadline contender. However, two independent factors lower its value. He takes 11% of his shots from mid range and isn’t very good from there, hitting 30.6% from 10-16 feet and a terrible 16.7% on the deep 2.

The other factor is his playoff resume. A candidate looking for a deadline push might be hesitant to give up future draft picks for a player who has never played in a postseason game. Still, he could be an option for a team looking for a big stretch.

There will be interest in the NBA trade deadline for Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon is probably the most valuable piece the Houston Rockets have before the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline. | Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

At 33, Eric Gordon may not be having his best statistical season, but it’s his most efficient by a significant margin.

Gordon is shooting 55.5% inside the arc and 44.5% beyond. Any contender looking to add a bench score at the NBA’s trade deadline would be wise to kick the 13-year veteran’s tires. Although he mainly started for the young Houston Rockets, he is a former winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award. A move to a reserve role would not be a meaningful transition.

Unlike Wood, Gordon has 55 games of playoff experience and averaged 16.0 points per game in the second season.

As a bonus, Gordon is also a solid perimeter defender (a part of Wood’s game that sometimes falters).

Healthy again after battling injuries over the past two years, the Hobbit is running out of time to hunt for a ring. Houston should get a first-round pick and maybe a second-round pick or two from a team in the title hunt.

What pieces do the Houston Rockets have in place?

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The second pick in last year’s draft, Green is as raw as he is talented. He turns 20 the day before the NBA trade deadline and is averaging 14.2 points per game. But he’s only shooting 45.2% on 2s and 29.1% on 6.2 3-point attempts per night. The Houston Rockets can afford to be patient right now, but efficiency is a top priority going forward.

Besides Green, the Rockets have added two other first-round picks this season. Turkish center Alperen Şengün plays just 18.2 minutes off the bench but is averaging 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists. The 16th pick last July came in a draft night trade from the Thunder.

The 19-year-old is still adjusting to the NBA game. His attacking game is a work in progress, but he shows a deft passing touch that belies his experience.

Another European great, Usman Garuba, is more of a project. The Spaniard is out for six to eight weeks after wrist surgery. Played sparingly by coach Stephen Silas, Garuba is raw. He’s averaging 1.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 7.0 minutes per game and is shooting 54.5 percent from 2 points. But he fires more than half of his shots from long range, where he’s a dismal 2 of 13.

In 11 games for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G League, the teenager averaged 9.2 points, 9.3 boards and 1.1 blocks in 24.6 minutes per night, shooting 67.3% at the inside the 3-point line, but 6 of 18 beyond.

Rebuilding takes time and some good lottery bounces. But the Houston Rockets are in a position before the NBA trade deadline to build their cache of future draft picks by dealing Gordon and potentially Wood.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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