‘I love his progression’ – Wood flourishing for Pistons as opportunity arises
Sam Forencich (NBAE/Getty)
PORTLAND – Christian Wood has played more than twice as many minutes for the Pistons this season as he did in his first three NBA seasons – and feel free to put seasons in quotes, because he was never in one spot for a full season before this year – and by the time it’s over he’ll likely have more than tripled his previous career total.
And then it will be a most telling summer for Wood, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent taking a very unusual resume to the marketplace.
But if he finishes the final 23 games on the same upward ascendancy that has marked his season – going from outside the rotation to spotty impact play to a suddenly burgeoning consistency – then Wood will be one of the most intriguing players of the Pistons off-season puzzle.
Coming off of a 26-point, nine-rebound outing in Sunday’s 107-104 loss at Portland, Wood has now scored in double figures in a season-high nine games. Over that time, he’s averaging 19.2 points and 8.9 rebounds in 30 minutes a game while shooting 53.5 percent overall and 40.5 percent from the 3-point arc. Seven of his nine 20-point outings have come in the last 15 games.
“He’s growing right before our eyes,” Dwane Casey said after Sunday’s powerful showing. “I love his progression.”
Wood has been coming off the bench of late and while it’s hard to argue that it’s tamped down his production, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s a starter when the Pistons play at Denver on Tuesday. While Wood likes to say he plays with a chip on his shoulder and credits his reserve status with helping keep that chip in place, he also lobbied to start in Sunday’s postgame locker room.
“I think I’ve earned the right to start,” he said. “I feel like I’ve played well this season. I feel like I want to start and I’m ready. When the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready. But I can only control what I can control. I trust Casey’s decision.”
The Pistons have gotten off to dreadful starts in their two games since the All-Star break, trailing Milwaukee 27-13 after 10 minutes and falling behind Portland 30-11 after eight minutes. Wood’s scoring punch and all-around production is getting harder to ignore.
The old saying about the game slowing down for young players as they gain experience is hard to quantify but easy to spot and that’s what has appeared to have happened for Wood of late.
“I think that’s definitely happened for me,” he said. “I think sets, plays, defense slowed down for me. I think I’m doing a better job defensively from what I was doing in the beginning of the season. This is my first time playing this many games. It’s just game reps and I’m figuring it out. I think I’ve figured it out. I’m ready for anything that comes my way.”
The most experienced Piston, Derrick Rose, has seen Wood turn a corner with the experience he’s soaked up over the course of the season.
“C-Wood’s been great,” Rose said. “In the spot I’m in, just seeing how young players want to play and getting a chance to be around him, he wants the opportunity to go out here and show that he can hoop. He’s showing that. He has to be able to play through his mistakes and just learn from them.”
Casey has been both a big proponent of Wood’s – pushing for him to make the team out of training camp when he was there on a non-guaranteed contract – and a taskmaster in holding him accountable when lapses in focus led to defensive gaffes or missed assignments. Even before roster turnover created a greater need for Wood to play, Casey had granted Wood the greater latitude that comes with increased productivity.
But he’s not about to stop pushing Wood to maximize his scintillating potential.
“He’s not a finished product yet,” Casey said. “Christian’s got to get stronger. This summer, he’s got to get in the weight room and make sure he gets stronger. Not as far as bulky, but get his core strength together where he can take some bumps and hits. He’s getting bumped now and still scoring, so you can imagine how much better he can be once he does get his core stronger and his upper body stronger.”
Wood exuded supreme confidence in himself long before he’d cemented his spot in Casey’s rotation, but sees that he’s a different player today than he was in September, knitting together his highlight-reel moments now with steady play that was often missing back then.
“I came really far,” he said. “I went from the 15th man on the roster to now playing big minutes and a rotation guy. I’m happy to be here, I’m enjoying this opportunity and I’m going to keep playing with a chip on my shoulder and keep playing with heart.”