DETROIT – NBA coaches like certainty. They’ll take the guy who produces eight points every night 10 times out of 10 over the guy who scores 16 one night and nothing the next.
Guys like that become known, often, as X factors. That sounds better than the alternatives: enigmatic, inconsistent, unreliable.
Christian Wood remains an X factor for now. Nudging him off of that status is Dwane Casey’s mission.
He got a nice boost in Sunday’s 132-98 rout of San Antonio, a game that became a rout largely because of Christian Wood.
The Pistons were up 12 with three minutes left in the third quarter when Casey pulled Andre Drummond for Wood when Gregg Popovich signaled his intent to go full Hack-a-Dre after Drummond missed a pair of free throws. When Drummond split his first pair following the intentional foul, Casey made his move.
Three minutes later, the Pistons led by 25. All Wood did in those three minutes was score nine points, hitting all three of his shots, one a triple, and both of his free throws, while collecting two rebounds.
“Christian is a talent,” Casey said of the willowy 24-year-old. “There’s nights he does things like that and there’s nights that he doesn’t. I thought he strung it together offensively, made good decisions, attacked the rim, rebounded well. Had an all-around excellent game. Like I’ve always said, he’s a talented young man. He’s just got to get the thinking into the game and continue to do that.”
The Pistons are Wood’s fifth NBA organization in five years since he went undrafted out of UNLV after two college seasons. He’s still working on a non-guaranteed contract but leaving little doubt that unless he derails himself he’s going to finish the season in a Pistons uniform – and potentially stamp himself as a key figure in their future.
He’s aware that every game is pretty much a job audition until he lands a long-term deal with guaranteed money.
“I’m not just doing this for Casey or the staff,” he said after his career-best 28-point outing on 11 of 14 shooting in 22 minutes, complementing his scoring with 10 rebounds, two assists, a steal and a blocked shot. “All 30 teams are watching me, so every time I play I try to be relentless. I try to come with energy and I try to give you everything I’ve got.”
Wood said in training camp he felt Casey would provide him his best opportunity yet to carve out his NBA niche, but he admits he wasn’t fully prepared to capitalize on chances that previously came his way.
“It’s a big difference,” Wood said of his readiness now. “I will start with maturity and I’ll start with different coaches. Every team is different, but coach Casey, he’s hard on me but it’s tough love.”
Wood led seven Pistons in double figures, including four of them off of the bench, which scored a whopping 75 points and shot an astounding 67.4 percent against San Antonio. Svi Mykhailiuk added 13 points and Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris 10 apiece with Rose doling out 10 of the team’s 33 assists.
“I think Derrick Rose is an engine,” Casey said. “His energy, his juice, the way he attacks the paint – I don’t know if anybody since he’s been in the league can keep him out of the paint when he wants to get there. I’m glad he’s on our team. His spirit, his heart is in the right place and it’s contagious.”
Luke Kennard helped get the Pistons off and running, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the first seven minutes in a game they never trailed. They outscored the Spurs in every quarter and established season highs in points, second-half points (73) and third-quarter points (37) while tying their season-high for fourth-quarter points (36).
“We played a lot better,” said Blake Griffin, who pointedly said after Friday’s loss to Charlotte that the Pistons needed to bring more fight and focus to the party. “Probably one of our more complete games. My message tomorrow is going to be what type of team are we going to be in Cleveland (on Tuesday)?”
And just as Griffin is prodding the Pistons to be the team they envisioned themselves being when they gathered for training camp, so is he prodding Wood to hit his mark.
“I mean, he’s unbelievably talented,” Griffin said. “Our thing with him is just staying on him about learning the game, his approach. He’s doing all the right things. That’s why he’s getting playing time and he’s taking full advantage of it. That’s huge for us. He’s another weapon.”