Jordan McRae hopes his tour with the Pistons follows Wood’s path
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
DETROIT – The fifth time was the charm for Christian Wood. Maybe it’ll work out the same way for his old G League teammate, Jordan McRae.
It took Wood going through four other NBA organizations before getting his first legitimate shot at permanence. Wood averaged 19.3 points and 9.0 rebounds a game in February and has averaged 22 points in six games since the All-Star break.
The Pistons obtained McRae this week the same way they landed Wood last summer, via the NBA waiver wire. McRae boarded a plane in Denver – where he was waived by the Nuggets on Monday – at noon Mountain time, landed in Detroit just before 5 and was whisked to Little Caesars Arena.
Did he expect to be in uniform and play 26 minutes before logging his first practice, getting a glimpse at the playbook or being formally introduced to all of his new teammates?
“No. I heard I was going to wear the warmup, but I didn’t think I was going to play seeing how I didn’t know the plays,” Wood smiled after his first practice on Thursday – one that went twice as long as a typical practice, largely to accelerate his learning curve. “But I went in with the coaches and learned as much as I could, about 25 to 30 minutes, and then it was time to play.”
And it didn’t take any longer than McRae’s orientation session for him to show why the Pistons beat Phoenix and other interested pursuers to the punch in claiming him: McRae’s innate scoring ability. He scored 15 points in his Pistons debut and was on the floor with the game on the line in the final quarter.
Casey said those he talked to around the league who’ve been associated with McRae called him “a professional scorer.”
McRae’s per-36 minutes scoring average of 20.8 this season ranks No. 3 on the Pistons behind only Derrick Rose and Wood.
“A couple of other teams were interested in him and we saw it,” Casey said. “His skill set is something every team needs. Derrick Rose is probably our best attack guy off the dribble. Luke (Kennard) when he was healthy was doing that. But you’ve got to have a guy to break the defense down, especially in today’s game where they’re tying to take away the three. Now you’ve got to make another play and that’s something Jordan can do.”
McRae has something else in common with Wood. They’ll be unrestricted free agents this summer with the Pistons holding early Bird rights to both, a modest advantage for a team below the salary cap. But if McRae puts his best foot forward over the season’s final 19 games and gets a sense the Pistons are offering a permanence he’s never known, he’s more than open to extending the relationship.
“We haven’t talked about anything like that,” said McRae, who was so exhausted by the events of Wednesday that he nearly fell asleep before his room-service order was delivered following the game. “First day being here, the practice facility and the arena, I’ve been to a lot of places – this is top notch. So if this is a place where I could make a home, I would love to.”
McRae, 28, was drafted 58th overall by San Antonio in 2014 and traded on draft night to Philadelphia. After a year in Australia, McRae made his NBA debut in January 2016 with Phoenix. He spent parts of that season and the next with Cleveland and the last two seasons with Washington before a February trade to Denver, precipitated by injuries. When Denver’s roster inched closer to full health, McRae was waived.
He knows why NBA teams keep giving him chances – his scoring ability – but also has come to see that he needs to show another trick or two to carve out a more permanent role.
“A lot of teams, even guys who get drafted top five, they have their guys who they need to score, so this year I concentrated on trying to show I’m more than just that – long and athletic on defense – and just trying to show my ability to score, to make plays for everybody else.”
For more secure NBA players – those with multiyear contracts – the biggest question is often whether to rent or buy. For players of McRae’s status, it’s something else: to unpack or not.
“Everybody’s dream is to find a home,” McRae said. “I’ve gotten kind of used to living out of a bag, so to speak. I never take my clothes out of the bag. Never put ’em in the drawers, because that could be a waste. I could be gone soon.”
For Jordan McRae, success with the Pistons could be measured by whether or not he uses the dresser.