Wood takes an assertive step to winning Pistons roster spot in preseason debut

Christian Wood
Christian Wood scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Pistons in their preseason opener Monday at Little Caesars Arena
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – It wouldn’t be easy for the Pistons to cut Christian Wood given their sheer lack of numbers up front. Another outing or two like Wood’s preseason debut and it would become downright impossible to cut him.

“I would say so,” Dwane Casey replied when asked if Wood helped his case to win the final roster spot with a 19-point, eight-rebound outing in 19 minutes of Monday’s 115-91 loss to Orlando. “He played hard. Key thing is playing hard, play the right way. He’s got to continue to do that.”

Wood has unique length and versatility that he used to score a handful of easy baskets around the rim, making himself available for entry and lob passes, running the floor, snatching rebounds above the rim and challenging shots, blocking one.

In an otherwise forgettable opener in which the Pistons shot 34 percent overall and 27 percent from the 3-point arc while running up 20 turnovers, Wood’s outing was the most significant development.

Casey played nearly everybody – only rookie Louis King, on a two-way contract, and Grand Rapids Drive forward Todd Withers didn’t play among the 20 players in camp – on a day the Pistons were thrown out of their routine with their attendance at the afternoon ceremony to open their gleaming new Henry Ford Detroit Pistons Performance Center a few miles away in the New Center area.

That – coupled with the fact Orlando got its preseason opener out of the way over the weekend – contributed to the raggedness the Pistons displayed after what Casey called one of the most productive training camps of his two-plus decades in the NBA.

“I thought we tried to ease into an exhibition game,” Casey said. “They had an extra game on us and we had to get loose for two, three minutes. By that time, they were running by us. … We’ve got to make sure we’re running the floor hard, doing the things hard we’re supposed to do, as we did last week in training camp. I thought we played harder last week against each other than we did in certain spots tonight. That was the message to the team after the game.”

Casey’s lineups matched the betting favorites with Tony Snell and Bruce Brown joining Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson as starters. The first grouping for the second unit consisted of Derrick Rose, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Markieff Morris and Thon Maker. Casey used three others – Svi Mykhailiuk, Joe Johnson and Wood – liberally over the first three quarters before waving in the deep reserves in the fourth quarter, including the debut of No. 1 pick Sekou Doumbouya.

Of players on the rotation bubble, Mykhailiuk probably did the most to advance his cause with eight points, three rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes, showing off the shot-making ability that is his carrying tool. He’ll have to win minutes from Galloway, a veteran who’s won Casey’s trust, to earn more than a sporadic role but Mykhailiuk’s size, shooting and playmaking potential add up to an enticing package.

Wood, though, was the headline grabber. Undrafted as a UNLV sophomore in 2014, Wood averaged 29 points and 14 rebounds in the G League last season and 17 points and eight rebounds in eight games to finish the NBA season in New Orleans. His length and scoring potential make him unique among Casey’s frontcourt bench options and, his teammates say, Monday’s production wasn’t an aberration.

“That’s been all camp,” Rose said. “He did the same thing in camp where he brought high energy, knocking down shots, making the right play. That’s what you need, especially with guys coming off the bench. You need guys that are locked in and focused.”

Wood said last week he felt more comfortable with the Pistons than at any of his four previous NBA stops, crediting Casey for filling him with confidence.

“I go out there, he gets mad when I don’t shoot the ball,” Wood said. “He yells at me. That goes a long way. As soon as you tell a guy like me – undrafted, coming in trying to make a name for himself – when Coach tells you go in the game, shoot the ball and play your game, it helps me out a lot.”

“His length is an issue for other teams,” Casey said. “Christian Wood was a force inside – played the game the right way, challenged shots, blocked shots, rolling to the basket. I’m looking at what he’s doing. Is he screening, is he running the floor, is he closing out to where he’s supposed to close out? He’s going to score 19 points almost in his sleep around the rim, as long as he is. I’m more concerned about is he doing the right thing.”

It was one game, but the abbreviated preseason – down to five games from the customary eight of yesteryear – doesn’t give players like Wood all that many chances to make an impression. He’s off on the right foot.

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