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Dwane Casey’s “tough love” of Christian Wood is paying off

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Slowly bringing Wood along is paying dividends 20 games in

NBA: Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Wood is extremely talented. Ask any of his present coaches and any of his teammates, and they just gush about his talent. However, they all give the same answer as to why he hasn’t “popped” yet in the league.

Wood has played on five different NBA teams, along with being in and out of the G-League his entire career. Even after averaging 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds for the New Orleans Pelicans last year to end the season, he was still cut by the team.

Why?

There’s been common knowledge among those close to the Detroit Pistons and around the team that Wood has struggled with professionalism, and has been quite immature to start his career.

You can get away with being a headache or a bit of a problem within the team outside of the basketball court when you’re LeBron James. When you’re a young, undrafted player in this league, not so much. This was the only reason Wood ever had to fight for the final roster spot for the Detroit Pistons. Talent-wise, and even need-wise, Wood is towards the very top of the roster.

However, a team with so many new pieces to fit together this season, if Wood were to be a problem, why keep him over Joe Johnson, who would be a stable veteran presence in the locker room and could help with chemistry? Wood did make the roster, though, and Johnson was eventually cut.

The Pistons made the right decision riding with the young, special talent with problems off the basketball court.

And, despite what fans might want to believe, Dwane Casey was the main force behind keeping Wood on this roster.

“I went to the wall to make sure (Wood) was here,” Casey said after the Pistons win over the San Antonio Spurs; a game where Wood went off for 28 points and 10 rebounds. I was also told much earlier in the season by those close to the situation that Casey was indeed the force behind keeping Wood over Johnson.

Given how Casey handled Christian early in the season, I can see why that’s hard for some fans to believe. Through the first 12 games of the season, Wood was fighting Thon Maker for the main backup center minutes. Maker was averaging 14.5 minutes and played in all 12 games, while Wood did average 15.8 minutes, but also got two DNP-CD’s.

When looking at the numbers, or simply watching the games, it was evident to almost everyone that Wood was a better option over Maker. Maker has not improved much, if at all, since the Pistons traded Stanley Johnson for him last year. To go along with Maker’s individual struggles to rebound the ball (only 6.1 rebounds per-36, compared to Wood’s 10.6 per-36), effectively screen defenders, and make any kind of consistent impact on the offensive end of the court, the Pistons are simply a much worse team with Maker on the court.

So far this season, the Pistons are 4.7 points worse when Maker is on the court. The only rotational player who has a worse on-court net rating is Markieff Morris (which just doesn’t seem right at all). However, the Pistons are a completely different team when Wood is on the floor. As of now, the Pistons are 10.0 points better with Wood on the court and 5.4 points worse with him off; an on/off swing of 15.4, which is the highest of any rotational player.

So, why did it take until the 13th game of the season for Wood to clearly take control of the backup center spot, and the 18th game for Wood to knock Maker completely out the rotation?

Well, maybe Casey was trying to make Wood earn it.

Whether you like it or not, Wood has had problems with maturity so far in the NBA. It’s not arguable, it’s quite literally the only reason the Pistons were able to bring Wood to The Motor City. Coaches have different ways of handling these type of situations, and perhaps the coaches before Casey weren’t able to crack the code. Maybe letting Wood know early and often that he wouldn’t be gifted anything was what the 24-year-old needed at this point in his career.

If you just give a player like Wood minutes based off of his talents, he could just assume they can get away with whatever because of their insane talents; something that very likely could of been the issue before joining Detroit.

Casey has been all over Wood this season. A defensive mistake made by Wood has often led to Casey pulling him out the game. Many fans found this wrong, and thought Casey was basically throwing games by playing Maker over Wood.

Although that decision may have indeed hurt the product on the basketball court for that time being, it seems to have worked in the longer run. And for someone who’s been around these players since pre-season, Wood has already shown a level of understanding on the situation and maturity that he was lacking in other stops.

When asked how he can have more consistent production and playing time, Wood said, “Knowing the offensive sets, the defensive sets, not having defensive lapses... I think I’m doing a better job with certain areas like that.”

Wood was then asked how is he more prepared now to be a consistent rotational player compared to years past where he was in and out the league. He responded, “I would start with maturity... Coach Casey he’s hard on me, but it’s tough love.”

This sounds like a player who’s finally getting it. Wood has a level of self awareness and maturity to him now that he simply lacked in all his other stops in the league.

Casey has his flaws as a coach. However, Casey’s big bright spots, when you talk to those who cover the game, are his handling of the locker room and young player development.

Griffin, the leader of this basketball team, echoed the same type of message Casey has when talking about Wood; “Our thing with him is just staying on him about learning the game, his approach.”

No one needs to tell Casey that Wood is extremely talented. There is more to surviving and succeeding in this league, though.

“It’s not about trust, I know he’s talented. I’m trying to teach him... to be a great player. Cause I went to the wall to make sure he was here. Its’s about doing the right thing... carrying himself the right way. Cause if he had, he wouldn’t probably have been with five different teams, cause he’s a very talented young man. It’s gonna pay off for him.”

Wood is an extremely talented young player. He’s helping the Pistons win games now, and should continue to do that for the foreseeable future. You don’t have to agree with everything Casey does, and there’s certainly some things you can criticize him for. Maybe the Pistons did lose some games they would’ve won had Wood been playing over Maker.

But, this front office has made it clear since they took over the Pistons, they are building to win as much now with Blake Griffin, but also are trying to build a culture and build for their future. Losing a few games early on in this season in order to tap into a young player with loads of talent and potential is worth it in the long run.