After bouncing around, Christian Wood thrives in first 'real chance' with Pistons
Detroit — After finishing his postgame shower, Christian Wood turned the corner in the Pistons locker room, weaving his way through a group of media members on the way to his locker. After getting dressed, he turned around, incredulous that the same throng was still gathered.
“Oh, y’all waiting for me?” he asked, seemingly taken aback at the thought.
Wood wasn’t used to the attention. After all, he was almost an afterthought in training camp, winning the competition with veteran Joe Johnson for the final roster spot. He played his way first into bite-size minutes and parlayed that into increasingly more.
Four months later, that’s turned into a starting role for Wood, a 6-foot-10 center. He’s a ball of energy on the court, but in the locker room, he seems to relish staying in the background. In recent weeks, the media crowds at Wood’s locker have become a regular occurrence.
With Blake Griffin likely out for the season and Andre Drummond traded to the Cavaliers, Wood has become the center of attention.
It’s been a tumultuous four months since training camp for the Pistons. Postseason dreams turned to an injury-plagued first 57 games. At 19-38, they’re in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, closer to the worst record (3 1/2 games) than they are to the last playoff spot (six games).
Wood, 24, is one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary season. From the final roster spot to a starting spot in a couple of months is quite the turnaround. His pterodactyl-size arms make him a threat on either end of the court.
“It’s not weird at all, just a credit to the work I've been putting in over the years and everything I’ve been through, from being cut and waived and told I wasn’t good enough,” Wood said. “Now I’m getting the opportunity to show what I can do. I feel this is a real chance for me and fans can really get to see my full potential.”
This stint with the Pistons is providing some stability for Wood, who has been a basketball vagabond for the first part of his career. He went undrafted out of UNLV and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers but spent most of his time with their G-League affiliate in Delaware. He bounced around the following year with the Charlotte Hornets before missing the whole 2017-18 season because of injury.
Wood has played 53 games with the Pistons this season — more than he played in his first four seasons combined — and is opening eyes with what looks to be a breakout season: 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 39% on 3-pointers.
Since he joined the starting lineup following the Drummond trade, he’s averaging 20 points, 10.8 rebounds and shooting 42% from beyond the arc. That includes a monster game of 26 points and 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s overtime loss at Orlando, when he drew praise from Magic coach Steve Clifford.
“We had him in Charlotte three or four years ago when he was really young. It hasn’t been easy for him,” Clifford said. “He’s had a lot of chances with a lot of teams and hadn’t been able to stick. Now, he’s found a place where he fits the way they’re playing; he’s playing well.”
Wood has been a steal for the Pistons, who plucked him off the waiver wire as a low-risk, high-upside opportunity. With what he’s shown in a big opportunity, it’s a wonder that Wood would have even been available.
The talk around the league had been about Wood’s professionalism off the court, but there are signs that things are turning around for him with the Pistons.
“We're staying on his behind and we're still going be on his behind. He's taking coaching; he hasn't taken it in a negative way, but he's grown,” coach Dwane Casey told The Detroit News. “A lot of it has been maturity, understanding the game, because skill-wise he’s one of the most talented young players in our league right now.
“But the other issue is he has grown. He may have had one tardy issue early, but I can't remember any others that he's had or him not being where he supposed to be doing his job on a daily basis.”
The Pistons front office tabbed Wood in previous years as a talented big man who could blossom. Senior adviser Ed Stefanski said he had been keeping an eye on Wood after he left UNLV and throughout his NBA travels.
Last summer presented the right opportunity to bring him to the Pistons, hoping that the past issues were corrected.
“We like Christian; he's worked well and as the coach has said sometimes, he has some issues maybe not wearing a watch and knowing what time it is to get places. He's done a nice job on the floor and he's coming around,” Stefanski said last week. “This is his fifth or sixth stop. He's a good young man and his focus has to be on hoops. We want to take a longer look at him to decide what we want to do going forward. He has talent and he is a nice young man.”
Payday on the way
Wood was on a non-guaranteed contract but because he was on the roster last month, it became fully guaranteed for $1.6 million. He has some financial security now, but the goal is to build on that this summer, when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and a bigger payday — with the Pistons or another team — could be coming.
There’s never been an issue with his talent; it’s just been putting it all together and doing the little things off the court, too.
Second-year guard Bruce Brown saw the potential very early on, when he faced Wood in the Las Vegas Summer League.
“I knew he was good because he played him in Summer League, it was like my first game in Summer League my rookie year,” Brown said. “I knew he was good — long and athletic — and could block shots and could run. I already knew about him.”
That work ethic and motivation are what Casey and the Pistons are hoping that Wood can harness toward becoming one of their building blocks for the future. There’s a void in the middle for next season and with Griffin slated to return healthy, there could be an opportunity for Wood to stay in Detroit long-term.
That’s something he hasn’t had in his career.
“It's hard work and that chip on his shoulder. Every other team he was on, they either let him go, or sat him on the bench and now he's getting a chance to play and to showcase his talent,” Brown said. “He's playing with that chip. People were trying to disrespect him but now he's on the scouting report, so I just think he needs to keep playing the way he's playing and he'll be great.”