Opportunity knocks on Wood’s door and so far, the results are promising

Christian Wood
Christian Wood has played more than 30 minutes in back to back games after not playing that many in any games this season before this week
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – There’s usually a reason fans clamoring for the productive bench player to win an expanded role wind up disappointed. It’s because more often than not, the expanded role proves beyond his reach. Sort of like a character actor who steals his scenes being unable to carry a movie in a starring role.

Dwane Casey isn’t about to make any sweeping declarations about Christian Wood’s ability to sustain having his name on the marquee, but the early returns after stacking his first two 30-minute outings of the season are promising.

Wood carries averages of 10.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 18 minutes a game for the season. He’s gone from outside the rotation to serving as Andre Drummond’s backup at center – a limiting role given Drummond’s durability and ability to consistently play 32-plus minutes a game – to something more now. Wood is being given chances to play at power forward and finish games even.

“The most important thing about Christian is just the mental approach,” Casey said after Wood’s 21-point, eight-rebound outing to help propel Wednesday’s win over Phoenix. “More than the physical. There’s never been a doubt about his physical talent.”

Or his outward confidence level.

Asked about the challenge of going from 18 minutes a night to 30-plus, Wood didn’t hesitate: “No challenge.”

“Well, there has to be some, doesn’t there?”

“None.”

OK, then.

Wood played a season-high 34 minutes on Monday at Memphis on a back to back and was one of the few Pistons who didn’t endure a miserable night at the offensive end as they struggled through a 29-point second half and finished with 82 points. Wood totaled 17 points and hit 7 of 11 shots. He logged 32 minutes against Phoenix, showing his versatility by guarding Mikal Bridges, a wing forced into playing power forward for the injury-depleted Suns.

“I’m comfortable (guarding on the perimeter). I think Coach trusts me a little bit more,” Wood said. “He lets me switch onto ball screens, lets me switch onto guards. I think he’s starting to trust me. He hates that word, but, you know.”

Casey has pushed back that playing time is a trust issue for the coach so much as a productivity issue for the player. Cutting down on mental lapses – blown defensive assignments, making incorrect reads with the ball or as the roll man – has won Wood more playing time. Maintaining his productivity in extended minutes now becomes the issue.

Getting it done in two games doesn’t prove his ability to do so for the long haul, but it’s a promising start.

“My playing 30 minutes is kind of a little new to me, but I keep playing better. Hopefully, it’s something I can do for the long run.”

Personnel evaluators looking at college players or young NBA players as they gauge trade prospects like to use per-36 minutes statistics as projection tools with the full understanding that not all players are capable of maintaining that level of productivity when minutes expand. Wood’s per-36 minute numbers, though, are tantalizing: 21.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.7 blocked shots.

That’s not all that far out of line with what he’s actually produced in the only two games where he’s come within five minutes of playing 36. With Blake Griffin not coming back anytime soon, Wood is likely to average closer to 30 minutes than 18 over the season’s final 29 games.

Casey – and a Pistons front office that needs to determine how much Wood can reasonably command on the free-agent market this summer – will be assessing how well he handles expanded responsibilities and how he progresses as a student of the game.

“Just his focus, making sure he understands the next-play mentality,” Casey said. “Consistency. When he’s consistent, he’s a talent. So that’s our charge as a coaching staff to make sure we keep him on target, on point what he’s doing on both ends of the floor.”

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