Christian Wood takes a shot among a crowd of Lakers defenders

Christian Wood emerges as late-season success story for Pelicans

by Jim Eichenhofer

How well has Christian Wood performed in his two weeks as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans? When he registered his first NBA double-double Sunday vs. the Lakers – with 15 points and 11 rebounds – it may have represented the least efficient performance of his brief Crescent City tenure. As a disappointing 2018-19 New Orleans season trudges to a conclusion, the Pelicans have recently experienced more injuries than wins, but the 23-year-old’s production on the floor has been a positive and welcomed development.

Signed March 20 after being waived by Milwaukee, the UNLV product made an encouraging first impression with seven points in just eight minutes March 24 vs. Houston. Two nights later against Atlanta, Wood authored one of the best games you’ll ever see from a late-season addition, featuring 23 points, nine rebounds, six blocks and three steals in 32 minutes. He followed that up with 25 points, nine boards and three more thefts vs. Sacramento, in just 28 minutes. Over four games with New Orleans, the three-year NBA veteran is averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals, despite a modest allotment of 23.8 minutes per game. Not bad for a player with only 409 official NBA minutes under his belt (nearly one-fourth of those have come with the Pelicans).

“It just shows a guy who was ready for his opportunity when it came,” Pelicans forward/center Julius Randle said. “He was in a situation where he was with a really good team in Milwaukee and didn’t get his opportunity, from what I know. He just kept working and working. He was ready to make an impact.”

“I’m ecstatic for it, happy for it and I’m glad I finally got an opportunity to show what I can do,” Wood said of his initial days with the Pelicans. “I’ve been telling people, ‘Once I get a chance, it will be over.’ I’m getting my chance and showing everybody what I can do.”

Wood has appeared in a total of just 47 NBA regular season games, but his G League resume is thick, having averaged 29.3 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for Wisconsin this winter. He was a 55.9 percent shooter from the field in the developmental league, which he’s carried over to New Orleans (60.5 percent, including 70.6 from two-point range).

“He’s got natural basketball instincts,” Randle said. “I’ve been impressed with his touch around the rim. He’s been able to take contact and make tough shots around the paint. His instincts on defense are great. He’s blocked shots, gotten steals and played the passing lanes. He seems like a really good player.”

Amid constant lineup shuffles forced by injury absences, New Orleans has struggled as a team on the defensive end in recent weeks, but Wood is providing much-needed rim protection. It’s the ultimate small sample size, but his rate of 3.0 blocks per 36 minutes is tops among any Pelicans player in ’18-19.

“To me the one thing we lack on our team is length, and he gives us length,” fourth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said. “With that, (on offense) he can roll and you can throw lob passes to him. He’s a pretty good shooter, so he has the ability to catch-and-shoot, even from three-point range.”

Ultra-confident since Day 1 of his arrival in New Orleans, Wood said he’s not surprised by the impact he’s made for the Pelicans, but was not necessarily expecting to be on the court this much so quickly. Most late-season pickups only receive sporadic cameos, but he’s logged 27-plus minutes in each of the last three games.

“I wasn’t expecting Coach to throw me into the fire like that,” Wood said. “It’s a blessing. First game I had to get a feel for everything, but second game I had it rolling and got into a groove a little bit.”

Wood is expected to be part of New Orleans’ roster during summer league, another circuit where the UNLV product has impressed. He was named first-team All-NBA Summer League in ’18, after averaging 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for the Bucks’ entry. Wood’s primary goal now is to show he belongs on an NBA roster long-term, as well as in a rotation.

“I think I’m earning my keep,” Wood said. “My thing is get downhill, play with energy, show some effort and everything good will take care of itself.”

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