(Editor’s note: Today continues a series looking at the 17 players – 15 under standard contracts, two on two-way deals – who comprise the 2019-20 Pistons roster heading into the home stretch of the off-season. Today: Christian Wood. Coming Tuesday: Tony Snell.)
The Pistons wasted no time addressing their need at point guard in free agency, coming to terms with both Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier in the first 24 hours.
They took a different tack at center. With their roster one short of the 15-man limit and a clear need for another big man capable of playing center, the Pistons decided to exercise patience and see who might shake loose at their price point – the veteran’s minimum.
A few weeks later, when a roster crunch forced New Orleans to waive Christian Wood despite eye-popping numbers put up in a late-season audition, the Pistons pounced. They put in a waiver claim, taking advantage of the fact that many teams ahead of them in the pecking order didn’t have a roster spot or any room on the depth chart for another big man.
Wood has been one of the most intriguing G League players for the past two years. He averaged 29.3 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 28 G League games last winter while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks affiliate. He spent two years at UNLV, leaving school after averaging 15.7 points and 10.0 rebounds as a sophomore, but went undrafted in 2015.
Wood’s potential was seen then, but he was frail and young – 19 at the time – and nobody felt confident enough that he’d be ready to contribute at any time of a typical two- or three-year window for a second-round contract. Time has proven that pretty accurate – but now Wood, who turns 24 in September, could be ready to see his potential fully realized.
Dwane Casey’s practice is to give his players their three core values to the team on the night before the first day of training camp. In keeping with that protocol with a slight twist, we’ll look at the three goals for each player on the roster heading into the 2019-20 Pistons season. For Christian Wood, those are …
START STRONG – The Pistons probably don’t have the luxury of carrying Wood to see what they have. There’s no rock-solid veteran – a la Zaza Pachulia or Aron Baynes – backing up Andre Drummond. If Wood proves incapable of providing regular minutes behind Drummond, then the job will fall to a combination of Thon Maker and Markieff Morris. The idea of Morris playing any significant minutes at center would have been unthinkable even three or four years ago, but in today’s NBA it’s not at all a radical thought. Still, there will be several second-team centers that would prove a challenging defensive matchup for Morris. Maker might be just as challenged to guard them, given his slight frame. Wood is also on the slight side; he weighed 216 pounds at the 2015 NBA draft combine, the same as Maker weighed one year later at the combine. If Wood doesn’t establish himself early in the season and the Pistons develop a need for a reliable fill-in for Drummond – which would become especially acute should Drummond, remarkably durable, suffer an injury that lingers for more than a week – they might feel compelled to find another center via any means necessary.
IMPROVE FROM THE PERIMETER – Wood has the willowy build and athleticism to project as an ideal modern-day big man. That becomes especially true if he can sharpen his 3-point accuracy. He’s a willing shooter who has consistently taken slightly more than 20 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc in 51 career games over three NBA seasons spent with Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans. (Ironically, the fate of two players who are now Pistons – Wood and Frazier – are intertwined. When a run of backcourt injuries forced the Bucks to waive Wood, they signed Frazier late in the season. Wood then signed with New Orleans, which had waived Frazier three weeks earlier.) Wood shot .265 from the 3-point arc in the G League last season on 3.5 attempts per game and .346 (on just 26 attempts) in 21 NBA games. Wood made a ton of sense for the Pistons for his length (his 9-foot-3½ standing reach is an inch longer than Maker’s and two inches longer than Drummond’s) and potential versatility – but that versatility depends on his ability to not just play on the perimeter but represent a credible shooting threat from there.
SEIZE THE MOMENT – Fate conspired against Wood in both Milwaukee and New Orleans. Teams don’t willingly give away players with Wood’s qualities unless there are extraordinary circumstances and that’s what happened to Wood in both Milwaukee and New Orleans. The Bucks desperately needed a guard to limp to the finish line of the regular season while Malcolm Brogdon, George Hill, Sterling Brown and Donte DiVincenzo all were missing, so they signed Frazier at the cost of Wood. New Orleans had to find roster space after the Anthony Davis trade not only brought back Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart but also the No. 4 draft pick that the Pelicans turned into two other first-rounders. Accommodating three players and three rookies – Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickiel Alexander-Walker – meant somebody had to go. Wood – despite averaging 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 24 minutes over the season’s final eight games – was sacrificed. Those weren’t easy decisions for Milwaukee or New Orleans, but now Wood has the opportunity to establish an NBA home with the Pistons. A strong summer working with assistant coaches could lay the foundation for him to get off to a good start and work his way into Casey’s everyday rotation.