Christian Wood might be a quality backup big man in the NBA, but it seems like he is already on borrowed time in Detroit. He will be fighting with veteran Joe Johnson for the final roster spot on the Pistons. Unfortunately for Wood, his fate might not rest in his hands but in the hands of how other players on the roster perform.
Wood is trying to hang on as a backup big man to spell Andre Drummond at center. Drummond, of course, usually plays big minutes. Blake Griffin might also see some minutes as a small ball center. Then there is Thon Maker, who is going to get every possible chance to make Wood irrelevant.
The one thing Wood must do – hit so many free throws that Maker’s one supposed skill is redundant to with a far better player. It’s a long shot but it’s the only shot he’s got.
Of course, if Maker shows anything it won’t really matter how good Wood performs in Detroit, he’ll be gone. Johnson doesn’t really face similar pressures. His competition at reserve forward will be young players Svi Mikhailiuk and rookie Sekou Doumbouya. It’d be shocking if Doumbouya was ready on day one as an 18-year-old and it’d be almost as shocking if coach Dwane Casey trusted Svi enough to cut bait on Johnson.
So my advice is to enjoy Wood, and DBB’s love of juvenile humor about people’s names, while you can. If there is one thing Wood can do to fend off Maker and Johnson for a roster spot it’ll be stretching out his game all the way to the perimeter.
Wood is a 75% free-throw shooter in his G-League career, where he’s played far more minutes compared to the NBA, so he knows how to catch and shoot. But he’s only a 28% 3-point shooter on about four attempts per 36 minutes. That’s only slightly worse than Maker’s 4.8 attempts per 36 and 30% success rate in Detroit.
Frankly, Detroit has a specific role in mind for their reserve center – stretch the floor and play defense. If the players are comparable, Detroit is likely to stick with the guy guaranteed $3.5 million with 2,700 NBA minutes under his belt than the NBA journeyman without a guaranteed contract.
For the Pistons to look past that contract and the “promise” of Maker as a prospect, Wood is going to have to hit at something like a 37% clip and be a Langston Galloway-type gunner. If he looks like a stretch five that can be relied on then the team might start looking at other parts of his game.
Wood is more of a power forward than center, but so is Maker and he looks to be a more effective defender. He blocks as many shots as Maker and fouls less. He also does something Maker, and most other Pistons are incapable of doing – getting to the free throw line.
But none of it will matter unless he starts raining 3s enough to make the coaching staff notice.