Chris Wood Displays NBA Talent in First Season as Starter

Wood 1170

With another season of UNLV basketball in the books, we’re going through the Rebels’ roster and assigning grades for each player based on their performance in 2014-15.

The final entry in the series is sophomore big man Chris Wood, who turned into a double-double machine for the Rebels in his first season as a starter.

REBELS REPORT CARD

Player: Chris Wood
Position: Forward/center
Year: Sophomore
Stats: 33 games, 32.7 minutes, 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 2.4 turnovers, 49.7 FG%, 73.6 FT%

Expectations: After losing both Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith following the 2013-14 season, UNLV needed Wood to step up and become a big-time player in the frontcourt. He showed massive potential as a freshman, with the kind of length, skill and athleticism to excel on both ends of the court, but he was inconsistent and often drifted to the perimeter, negating his physical advantages. As a sophomore, the Rebels were committed to feeding him the ball if he could operate closer to the basket. He was also being counted on to control the glass and provide a defensive presence in the middle. And as one of the few rotation players with experience playing at UNLV, he was also expected to serve as a leader to the newcomers.

Performance: First and foremost, Wood was an absolute workhorse in 2014-15. He played in every game and led the team in minutes per game (32.7), a rare feat for a 6-foot-11 big man. That’s answering the bell, and for a team that was eventually whittled down to an eight-man rotation for much of the season, his durability was an invaluable contribution.

Wood didn’t just play heavy minutes, however—he made an impact. On offense, he developed just enough of a post game to be a viable threat on the low block, using his sheer athleticism to rise up and shoot over less gifted defenders. And he really excelled in the mid-post area, facing up and using his quickness to drive to the basket with one or two dribbles. He didn’t entirely abandon his 3-point game, as he launched a regrettable 2.7 attempts per game (28.4 3FG%), but for the most part he stayed near the basket and scored effectively in the paint. More than 43 percent of his shots came at the rim, and he hit 65.0 percent of those attempts.

Defensively, Wood wasn’t quite as electrifying—he allowed a mediocre 78.7 points per 100 possessions, and an even worse 88.1 per 100 on post-up plays—but he still did his job. The Rebels were perilously thin in the frontcourt, and Wood did a credible job on defense while avoiding foul trouble, something that freshmen forwards Dwayne Morgan and Goodluck Okonoboh sometimes struggled to do. Wood did block 2.7 shots per game, so he provided some level of rim protection, and his ability to swing between power forward and center helped cover up a lot of the Rebels’ personnel shortcomings.

Wood’s biggest contribution on the defensive end came on the boards. He was a dominant rebounder for most of the season, leading the team with a defensive rebound rate of 22.8 percent (the next-closest Rebel was Jelan Kendrick at 14.2 percent). He grabbed double-digit rebounds in 20 games.

Wood hit one lull during the season, going through a three-game stretch in early January in which he averaged 6.7 points and 8.3 rebounds. The Rebels lost two of those games, and some fans and media started to turn on him at that point, questioning his effort and intensity. But Wood bounced back by scoring in double figures in the next 15 games to close out the season, with eight double-doubles sprinkled in.

In the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center, he averaged 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 57.6 percent (19-of-33) over two games. By the time the Rebels’ season was over, Wood had played himself into the conversation as a possible first-round NBA draft pick.

Needs Improvement: No one has ever questioned Wood’s skill level. He’s oozing with potential as a low-post scorer, and his effortless stroke has some projecting him as an effective stretch-4 at the NBA level. But physicality is not his forte. Wood is lanky and lacks functional strength, and he often shied away from contact this season. Some of that may have been an attempt to avoid foul trouble, but there’s no doubt he’s got to get bigger and stronger if he wants to reach his potential, whether he plans on playing professionally next year or returning to UNLV for his junior season.

Future Forecast: As of this writing, Wood still hasn’t announced his intentions for 2015-16. Most mock drafts have him pegged as a first-round selection, but Wood has also hinted that he’s open to returning to UNLV for another season. If he comes back, he’ll be the preseason favorite for Mountain West Player of the Year and the leader of one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and something like an 18/13/3 line isn’t out of the question. If he heads to the NBA, he’ll get a guaranteed contract, but he’ll also likely face a year or two of development in the D-League.

Final Grade: A-
What Wood did for UNLV this season was remarkable. He seamlessly made the leap to full-time starter and produced big numbers while leading an extremely thin team in minutes played. He found himself the subject of scrutiny because the team underperformed, but he was the Rebels’ most consistent and dependable player throughout the season. He made big strides on offense, and by the end of the year opposing teams were double-teaming him in order to get the ball out of his hands. Wood didn’t always exert himself on defense, but he was a monster on the glass and was responsible for helping UNLV win a couple games it had no business winning. The Rebels’ iron man definitely earned this A- grade. If this was his final season in Las Vegas, he made it count.

Previous entries:
The Incompletes (March 30): N/A
Dantley Walker (March 31): C+
Dwayne Morgan (April 1): D+
Jelan Kendrick (April 2): C+
Jordan Cornish (April 5): B+
Goodluck Okonoboh (April 7): B
Cody Doolin (April 9): B-
Rashad Vaughn (April 12): B
Patrick McCaw (April 14): A

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