Only months removed from when the small-ball Rockets played no centers, new Houston head coach Stephen Silas says he is open to potentially using two at the same time.
Emerging big man Christian Wood was a revelation on offense during the recent road trip to Portland and Denver, averaging 27 points (55% FG) and eight rebounds per game. Yet, the athletic 25-year-old — who starts at center for the 2020-21 Rockets — struggled at times on defense versus bruising, physical bigs like Jusuf Nurkic of the Trail Blazers and Nikola Jokic with the Nuggets. Even so, Silas had little choice but to ride it out, since backup center DeMarcus Cousins was sidelined in quarantine and third-stringer Bruno Caboclo struggled mightily.
That dynamic could change starting Thursday against Sacramento, with Cousins now back with the team after clearing his quarantine. But as Silas sees things, it won’t necessarily be a debate of the athleticism and skill of Wood versus the power and physicality of Cousins. In certain matchups, the Rockets could use both bigs together, since Wood should be agile enough to handle minutes at the power forward spot.
When asked after Wednesday’s team practice whether he was open to playing Wood and Cousins together, Silas responded:
Yeah, I’m definitely open to it. To have DeMarcus, who can hold his own against those guys down low, then we don’t have to get into so many help situations, as we saw in the Denver game against Jokic. We had to help a lot, which opened up all of the things that he does well. He can really pass the ball, find cutters, and then offensive rebounds, because we’re out of position. To have Cousins out there will definitely help our post defense.
But then Christian has the ability as a stretch four — which, I guess all fours maybe are stretch, now. It used to be, there would be the Matt Bullards of the world who were stretch fours. [laughs] But C-Wood can definitely hold that role and play pick-and-roll, and make it hard on teams to guard.
Wood and Cousins were never simultaneously active in the preseason, with Cousins sitting out the fourth and final game for planned maintenance and Wood missing the first three with a sore elbow. Thus, Silas has yet to have both bigs activated at the same time, which — other than practice time — has prevented any Cousins-Wood experiments.
That changes Thursday night, when Houston will play its first home game of the regular season. Tipoff between the Rockets (0-2) and Kings (3-1) is set for 6:00 p.m. Central from Toyota Center, with the game televised on AT&T SportsNet Southwest throughout usual Houston markets.