Where Does Potential Star Christian Wood Fit in Free Agency?

Coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history, the Detroit Pistons have big decisions to make regarding the future direction of the team.

One of their most important decisions surrounds 24-year-old center Christian Wood. He showed flashes of stardom this season and now enters free agency as potentially one of the hottest commodities to hit the open market during a “down year” of candidates.

Prior to this season, Wood was starting to build the reputation of being nothing more than a young, rotational journeyman. Since entering the league out of UNLV in 2015, he played a total of only 51 games for four different teams (Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans).

Wood spent most of his young career dominating the G-League, however. After averaging 17.3 points and 9.4 rebounds during his 32-game stint with the Delaware 87ers in his rookie year, he continued to show potential as a dominant, athletic big who was improving in nearly every statistical category.

But, his best G-League season came last year as a member of the Wisconsin Herd. There he averaged 29.3 points, 14.1 rebounds and just over two blocks a game on 55.9 percent shooting from the floor.

In a way, this all led to the true start of Wood’s NBA career.

Nonetheless, the beginning of his tenure got off to a rocky start.

He found himself competing with former Big3 league MVP and longtime NBA star Joe Johnson for the final roster spot in Detroit. Wood was uncertain about whether or not he would even make the team. Yet, despite all the national buzz generated by a potential “Iso Joe” comeback, Johnson was cut in favor of the younger, more athletic Wood.

It eventually became apparent as the right call.

Despite barely getting off the bench to start the season, Wood played a career-high 62 games and started 12 while putting up 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and one assist on 56.7 percent shooting from the field and 38.6 percent from behind the arc.

The overall season stats may not be relatively impressive, but how he produced as a focal point of the offense is where we start to see some star potential. During the final 20 games of the truncated season, Wood had 12 performances of 20 points or more, including a career-high 32-point showing against his former 76ers teammates right before the season was suspended.

With talent and potential to be a young building block, Wood has changed his focus from simply wanting to make a roster to now wanting to be a part of a winning culture. Only a day before the league announced a 22-team resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season, Wood sent Pistons Nation a short yet impactful message via Twitter.

After being considered a perennial playoff team from the 1980s to the early 2000s (21 appearances in 30 seasons), the Detroit franchise has taken a drastic turn towards mediocrity. Since 2009, the Pistons have only been in the playoffs twice (2015 and 2018) and have otherwise won 30 games or less in six of the last 11 seasons.

That includes this most recent campaign where, despite Wood’s ascension, the team went 20-46. That is tied for the franchise’s least number of wins in a season since 1993 and the third lowest in franchise history.

Although the tweet comes off as more cryptic than direct, speculation is building that Wood may be on the move out of Motor City this offseason.

If Wood is truly in search of winning culture, teams that could be a perfect fit include the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors.

Looking to continue their historic 22-year run of consecutive playoff appearances, the Spurs are a franchise associated with championship pedigree. Coincidentally, they are also likely in need of another center. Jakob Poeltl is the only one currently on the roster, and big man LaMarcus Aldridge’s time may be running short in San Antonio.

Despite being led by Demar Derozan and Aldridge all season, this team is awfully guard-centric with Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, Patty Mills and Derrick White all occupying the backcourt.

Similar to the old days of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, San Antonio could deploy a one-two punch (if Aldridge stays) in the frontcourt that reverts them back into perennial championship contenders they once were.

Feb 25, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood (35) shoots the ball over Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) in the second half at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Combined with the mid-range, finesse style of Aldridge, Wood would provide an athletic rim protector that can also put it on the floor, finish above the rim and spot up for the occasional three. With the league transitioning towards a “small ball” oriented style, the combination of Aldridge and Wood could pose a serious threat to teams lacking serviceable bigs.

Then there are the Raptors, who could potentially have a huge hole at center if they elect not to re-sign Serge Ibaka and/or Marc Gasol this offseason. With Pascal Siakam leading the way alongside Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, Wood would be another young building block to help this roster remain an Eastern Conference powerhouse for the foreseeable future.

The Raptors have not lost a beat since their championship run last season with Kawhi Leonard, and Wood could make them better than they are today. He is younger and more athletic than both Ibaka and Gasol and actually shoots the three better than both. That would give Toronto a bit more flexibility at the position through his ability to also stretch the floor.

The smart move might be for the Raptors to chase Wood in free agency and pair him with Siakam in the starting lineup while also retaining one of Gasol or Ibaka (depending on price) for a savvy veteran option off the bench.

With his first real opportunity to choose where he wants to go, the young Piston has his own big decisions to make this offseason. The name Christian Wood is definitely one people should start familiarizing themselves with.

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