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Christian Wood Player Preview: First he makes the team, next he sticks in the rotation

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Wood could prove to be a fan favorite for years to come

NBA: Preseason-Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Wood may be the most talked about end of the roster player in the NBA. Or it just seems that way the past several weeks being plugged in as a Detroit Pistons fan.

However, unlike most end of the roster players — most of which are very young and are projects or are veterans just trying to barely hang in the league — Wood is ready, right now, to be an integral rotation player on a playoff contender.

Yours truly wrote more than a month ago that Wood would be the Pistons’ key role player this season. Pretty bold, yes?

This is a piece of what I wrote:

I like how Christian gets his points. I like how he tries to dunk on people. I like his length. I like how his defensive ability and potential is there. There’s definitely something excellent in the active, athletic backup big man. He’s likely not going to ever be a full-time starter in the league (unless he’s on a full-blown tanking squad). I know I’m not going out on a limb in saying that. But I’m also not saying he will only have a small impact as a tenth man or so. Christian Wood will be an integral piece for the Pistons as a top-6 team in the East.

By now you’ve heard that Christian Wood was mostly excellent in his eight-game late season stint with the New Orleans Pelicans with averages of 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.

And I know if you’re reading this you realize that Christian Wood has been fairly impressive this preseason for the Pistons. In five preseason games Wood ranked second on the team in points, rebounds and blocks in 17 minutes per game. He shot 55% from the field, 83% from the free-throw line (20-of-24) and 40% from downtown (2-of-5).

To make the roster as a non-guaranteed contract player, Wood needed to have a good if not excellent preseason showing. Well, call Wood’s preseason play good, muy bueno, excellent. Whatever. He has more than earned himself a roster spot with Detroit.

Offense

Wood has a strong, sticky pair of hands and they will more than help him in doing what he’ll regularly need to do which will be catching lobs, cleaning up trash underneath, and taking slower players off the dribble with his decent handles and making them pay inside.

Adding to that, 3-point shooting is an intriguing aspect of Wood’s developing skill set. A few weeks ago Sean rightly wrote that the Pistons likely have 3-point shooting and defense as pillars in what they want out of a backup center. I’d also hope Detroit continues to use Wood in the pick-and-roll game and force defenses to choose how they want to defend that.

There were many highlights of Wood throwing down this preseason, but this is likely the best.

Defense

Wood will surely turn your head with some flashy shot-blocking if given the minutes:

What I didn’t bother to show you is the many times when Wood was out of position, or too slow on help side coverage, or both.

We know that defense in basketball is so much more than shot-blocking. Team defense concepts, positioning on the help side, positioning for rebounds, communication, and pre-game film and preparation are just some of it. Wood must be good enough in most of these aspects to warrant rotational minutes. And does he have that potential to be an all-around good defensive player? Of course he does. He’s long, athletic, and has more than shown what he’s capable of. Big question is — can Wood be consistent?

Projected Role

I will take a conservative, although probably realistic approach, and write that Wood’s projected role will be of a situational backup to Andre Drummond. Wood will not play every game, in fact, his playing time will largely be based on match-ups and what schemes the Pistons feel give them the best chance to win. Namely, against certain opponents Markieff Morris will play the backup center minutes, for example. Essentially, Wood won’t be deemed good enough to be a regular feature in the Pistons rotation. And this view doesn’t seem far-fetched because, after all, Wood is 24-years-old and is still just hanging on as a fringe level NBA player.

Well, until he isn’t.

Best-case scenario

The best-case scenario is that Wood is, indeed, the most key role player for the Pistons and the question from media, the fans, everyone, is, how can the Pistons get him on the floor more? Does it mean Wood is paired together with Drummond five or six minutes per game. Ten minutes per game? Is Christian Wood consistently playing close to 20 minutes a game because he has become one of the more impactful front court bench players in the league?

Worst-case scenario

The worst-case scenario is that Thon Maker plays just solid enough early in the season when Wood blows his chance and then doesn’t let up. He doesn’t have to be the most amazing backup center option, but if he is clearly in front of Wood and the team is also staying afloat as a playoff contender, then Wood may never be a legitimate factor. You’d think going into the season that Wood is certainly getting a handful of games to continue to prove he’s the number one backup option to Andre Drummond, so a slow, ineffective start from Wood would give the opportunity to Thon Maker.

———

Wood is here in Detroit to stay — for it would seem at least this season. Of course for exactly how long will depend on his play. As I wrote more than a month ago, I think right now it’s Wood’s time and that there’s something more coming to him. All credit goes to Wood and his progression, albeit slow by many standards, but steady enough to be still finding a chance in the NBA after being on the fringes these past few years. He has created his own luck and hopefully he can continue his strong play in the regular season.