Christian Wood was the Detroit Pistons breakout star at the end of last season. Now, he plays for the Houston Rockets. Was it a mistake to let him leave in free agency?
Due to an ankle injury, Christian Wood will not play for the Rockets on Friday night against his former club. This spoils his return to Little Caesars Arena, where he had so many big games last year.
Wood was the big question general manager Troy Weaver and Detroit Pistons management faced in the off-season.
He had been a fringe NBA player for a few years, bouncing between the G-League and occasional short stops in the NBA. He had been cut twice by the ‘Process’ Philadelphia 76ers, who were not even looking for players who would help them win.
He was best known for his Summer League performances. He would dominate games in Orlando and Las Vegas, then slip off the map until next summer for most NBA fans.
Wood, a 6-foot-10, 214-pound center/forward, had played in 70 NBA games total since 2015, when he accepted an invitation to Detroit Pistons training camp last year. It would be his fifth NBA team in five years.
The only reason he even made last year’s Pistons team, was due to an injury late in training camp to Joe Johnson. If not for that, Wood would. probably have been cut and headed back to the G-League.
But, as the season went on, and injuries piled and veterans began leaving a team that was sinking fast in the standings, coach Dwane Casey basically had no choice but to insert Wood into the starting lineup.
With the steady minutes, and the knowledge he would not be yanked if he made a mistake, since Detroit basically had no one to replace him, Wood blossomed.
Christian Wood goes from benchwarmer to NBA star for Detroit Pistons
In the Pistons last 15 games of the 2019-20 season, Christian Wood never got less than 30 minutes in a game.
He became a scoring machine. In all but one game during that period, he scored 17 points or more. He also was a fine rebounder, netting 10 rebounds or more in half the games.
In what turned out to be the Pistons final game of the season due to the pandemic, Wood poured in 32 points against the 76ers. He was guarded most of the time by Joel Embiid, regarded as one of the best defensive center’s in the league.
When the season ended, the Pistons faced a dilemma. Wood was now a free agent, as he had signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract. Detroit never thought he would be a player of any major impact. Heck, they did not even guarantee his salary for the full season until January.
They also were transitioning to a new general manager, Troy Weaver, who was hired in June.
Isn’t he good? Christian Wood?
Weaver had a decision to make. Which version of Christian Wood would Detroit be getting if they signed him to a long-term, big bucks deal.
Was it the scoring and rebounding machine Wood had looked like in the Pistons last 15 games. Or, was that just a blip, and was he going to return to play like the 15th guy on a team, one step from being in the G-League.
The fans made it clear, they wanted Wood back.
When asked about Wood, Weaver always said the same thing: They wanted him to return, but he had a number in his head he would not cross.
At Thursday’s practice, coach Dwane Casey confirmed this (per Rod Beard of the News):
“He’s a go-to guy … I’m proud of him and the time we put in with him,” said Casey of Wood. “We tried to get him (to stay) here; we just didn’t have enough in the bucket (salary cap).”
Wood agreed to a three-year, $41 million deal with Houston. To put that in perspective, Wood in his entire NBA career had made $4.3 million total to that point.
The Rockets needed him, as they had basically gotten rid of all their big men in an attempt to play ‘small ball’ the previous season, to middling effect. It was eventually converted into a sign-and-trade, and the Pistons ended up with a 2020 draft pick that turned into center Isaiah Stewart, while giving Houston a future No. 1.
Despite all the turmoil of the Harden affair, Wood has flourished in Houston, so far. After 12 games, he is averaging 23.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game. He’s scored 20 points or more in every game except one, and has poured in 30 points or more twice. And this is in 12 games.
And Wood is just 25-years-old, so he can be a standout for a long time. It appears all he needed was a chance.
This begs the question: What would the current Detroit team look like if Christian Wood had been brought back?
How would Detroit Pistons be if Christian Wood had been re-signed?
Everything is not in a vacuum. Obviously, other NBA teams were willing to shell out big bucks to get Christian Wood, Houston just won the bidding war. The fact it had ample playing time for a big man certainly helped as well.
Wood only got his chance last season because Blake Griffin got hurt and Andre Drummond was traded.
Hypothetically, let’s say that Wood agreed to return to the Pistons for $45 million over three years, outbidding the Rockets (although in reality who knows if they wouldn’t have gone higher to get him).
First, if you have Wood you do not have Mason Plumlee, as he would not be affordable with Wood’s contract counting on the salary cap. Detroit also might not be able to fit Delon Wright’s salary under the cap. Due to the injury to Killian Hayes, Wright has emerged as the team’s starting point guard.
You might say, big deal, Wood is a lot better than Plumlee. That may be true in terms of scoring, but Plumlee is better at setting picks and passing. Other player’s would not be doing as well in the offense, if Plumlee was not there.
And then Casey would have some lineup situations to deal with.
First, with Griffin back, Wood would have no time at power forward, which is probably his natural position. Casey has made it clear that Griffin will get the majority of minutes. When Griffin is not in, Casey likes to slide Jerami Grant to the ‘4’, which he is very comfortable in.
And if you have Wood, Griffin, Grant and rookie Stewart playing center and power forward, where is room for Sekou Doumbouya to get time? He might be getting even less than now.
Also, consider what a breakout season that Grant has had. There is lots of talk of the former role player being an All-Star.
Plumlee does not need, or usually even ask, for the ball on the offensive end. Wood would be in the low post, possibly blocking the driving lanes that Grant has been so effective at scoring on. How would that change the overall offense?
With Wood being the returning big scorer, would Grant be as assertive, and having the season he is, if Wood was there?
Of course, Wood might be able to get buckets down the stretch when everyone else seems to be falling apart.
Wood is doing great individually, but he has not been able to move the needle in terms of wins and losses for his teams .
In those 15 games where Wood was the main focus, the Pistons went 2-13. The Rockets come in with a 4-9 record.
Do the Pistons regret not brining back Grant? Maybe. But this is a different team, with different objectives, than the one he played so well for early last year.