A little over five months ago, Christian Wood was fighting to make the Detroit Pistons roster. After being released by the New Orleans Pelicans, Wood found himself in a battle with veteran Joe Johnson for the final spot in Detroit. Now, Wood is the Pistons’ starting center, and potentially their center of the future.
If you read that sentence at the beginning of the season, you would’ve assumed something went terribly wrong this season.
And you would be 100 percent correct.
Injuries to Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson sunk this team from the get-go, and the Pistons were never able to put a good product on the court. The preseason projected starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Tony Snell, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond didn’t start a single game together.
This led to the front office having to make a decision on the future of the Pistons. Their verdict? Rebuild. So the face of the franchise for the past eight years was traded at the deadline to the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Drummond gone, this has opened up the opportunity for Wood to show he is a starting NBA center.
Luckily, before shipping out Drummond, Wood had already shown signs that he was ready for a bigger role. In his first 49 games coming off the bench, Wood put up 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. He shot 57.0 percent from the field, 37.6 percent from deep, with a true shooting percentage of 66.3 percent. Of all players who had played at least 900 minutes for the Pistons this season, Wood has the highest on/off net rating at 9.8 points. The Pistons offensive rating, using the same minutes filter, is at it’s highest with Wood on the court: 110.0.
A walking highlight, the California native became a fan favorite with a cult following. However, inconsistency on defense and a lack of IQ on that side of the ball had kept him from playing the amount of minutes fans wanted.
“When he’s consistent, he’s a talent,” head coach Dwane Casey said about Wood.
And that’s been a consistent theme throughout the season. Casey has been tough on Wood all year, often calling him out in postgame pressers for his lack of attention to detail on defense. Along with that, Casey pointed to maturity issues as to why Wood had bounced around the league before landing in Detroit.
Being in the locker room all year, it’s noticeable how much Wood has grown, maturity-wise, and has locked into this opportunity in the Motor City.
Casey told a reporter after the Pistons loss to the Orlando Magic, “He’s worked hard. Done everything we’ve asked, been on time. He’s got the talent and the maturity has come along to match now too.”
Wood showed a level of self-awareness and toughness in early December when he told reporters in the locker room, “Coach Casey, he’s hard on me, it’s tough love.”
Casey has been straightforward with Wood all year, and it looks to have paid off for Christian and the Pistons.
Wood has started the last four games for the Pistons, and has put up some eye-popping numbers. In 33.4 minutes, Wood has averaged 20.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game. He’s shooting 53.7 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from deep, with a true shooting percentage of 64.1 percent.
Although he still struggles at times with discipline and attention to detail on the defensive side of the ball, Wood is extremely versatile on the offensive side of the ball:
The above clip shows just how skilled of a big Wood is and how much confidence the Pistons have in him offensively. Wood misses the shot, but the fact this play was even run for him tells you what you need to know.
Off the out of bounce pass from Snell, Thon Maker and Wood downscreen for him coming out of bounds. The defense focuses on Snell curling around, but the play is actually designed for Wood. After the bigs screen for Snell, Maker then sets a screen for Wood, who pops out to the corner.
You don’t see many big men with the capability and the confidence from his coaching staff to have this play run for them.
Take a look at this clip from the same game:
Early in the shot clock, Detroit runs an off-ball screen for Bruce Brown. Brown immediately gives the ball back to Wood on the wing, and the play is suppose to develop into a dribble-hand-off with Jackson, who is coming from top of the key.
Instead of running the play out, Wood turns and realizes Nikola Vucevic is sagging off him just a tad. Wood then squares up and drains a three in between Vucevic’s eyes.
It truly is a pick your poison with Wood this season. Either you sag off and get a three drained in your face, or you close out, and he takes you to the rim for a highlight dunk or an easy and-one:
Wood has flashed this throughout this season, but even more so since being inserted into the starting lineup. He’s is a dangerous player from everywhere on the offensive side of the court. He’s the definition of the “unicorns” of the NBA - a big man with the ball skills of a guard and the ability to shoot from the outside. Every NBA team wants a guy like this, and the Pistons have him.
Yes, Drummond was a double-double machine and a much better better defender than Wood. Although Drummond was capable of running of offense and was vastly improved this season in self-creation, Wood is more polished and skilled on the offensive side of the ball.
The Pistons said goodbye to their face of the franchise and homegrown player, and gave Wood the opportunity to show he’s capable of replacing him moving forward. It’s only been four games, but Wood has done nothing but confirm what many thought before the trade of Drummond: That he was ready for his moment.
“I’m getting the opportunity to show what I can do,” Wood said. “I feel this is a real chance for me, and fans can really get to see my full potential.”