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Free Agency 2020

Why Christian Wood is this offseason's most interesting free agent

Let's play a game.

You're the general manager of an NBA team. Your priority this offseason is to sign a big man to round out your starting five for next season. You don't have a ton of cap space, but you have enough to sign one of two players.

Based on the following numbers, which are per 36 minutes from the 2019-20 season, would you rather have Player A or Player B?

Player PTS REB AST BLK FG% 3P% FT%
A 24.1 9.2 2.2 1.5 .580 .000 .658
B 22.0 10.6 1.6 1.5 .567 .386 .744

So ... who are they?

Player A is Montrezl Harrell, who was named this season's Sixth Man of the Year.

Player B is Christian Wood, who is coming off of a breakout season with the Detroit Pistons.

For the sake of this article, it doesn't matter who you actually picked. All that matters is that Harrell wasn't a no-brainer. Why? Both Harrell and Wood are unrestricted free agents this offseason, free to sign with any team in the league. While Harrell is widely considered to be one of the best free agents available, especially at the centre position, Wood isn't nearly as well known among the casual NBA fan.

That's not even to say those numbers point to Wood being superior to Harrell. (As much fun as player comparisons are, it's hard to say one player is better than another based only on seven cherry-picked stats). But what those numbers do shine a light on is the potential that makes Wood the most interesting player in this free agent class.

Let's take a closer look at what he did this season to understand why.

Scoring tendencies

According to NBA.com, Wood scored the bulk of his points on spot-ups (21.6 percent), as the roll man in pick-and-rolls (19.7 percent) and in transition (16.7 percent) this season.

He ranked around the league average in scoring efficiency in transition (50th percentile) but was among the league leaders in both spot-up (86th percentile) and pick-and-roll (95th percentile) efficiency.

Wood generated very little offence in the post (6.6 percent), scoring more on putbacks (10.2 percent) and off of cuts (9.6 percent).

Christian Wood's scoring tendencies (2019-20 season)
Play Frequency Points Per Possession Percentile
Spot-up 21.6% 1.19 85.9
Pick-and-roll 19.7% 1.50 95.4
Transition 16.7% 1.11 49.8
Putback 10.2% 1.34 88.7
Cut 9.6% 1.24 43.9
Post-up 6.6% 0.80 24.5

Shot chart

A stretch big

The most intriguing part of Wood's game is his 3-point shooting.

According to NBA.com, almost a quarter (22.8 percent) of his shot attempts this season were catch-and-shoot 3s. He converted 40.4 percent of those opportunities, putting him on the same page as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Danilo Gallinari and Jaylen Brown, albeit on not quite the same volume as them.

All but four of Wood's made 3s on the season were assisted, most coming off of drive-and-kicks from the likes of Derrick Rose, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway. As big as he is - Wood is listed at 6-foot-10 - he's perfectly content spotting up on the 3-point line and waiting for kickouts.

Combine his height with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, as well as a quick release for a player his size, and Wood can shoot over pretty much any defender.

That alone makes Wood an interesting player in the modern NBA where spacing comes at a premium. In theory, he's a good enough shooter to share the court with a more traditional big man and big enough to play centre, where his 3-point shooting becomes even more valuable.

Where Wood begins to separate himself from other stretch bigs is with his ability to attack closeouts. If defenders run him off the 3-point line, he can put the ball on the floor and score around the basket in a variety of ways.

He has the length to finish over smaller defenders in the paint...

...the footwork to tiptoe his way around defenders...

...as well as the touch to score outside of the restricted area.

Wood wasn't particularly efficient from floater range - he ranked in the 34th percentile in scoring efficiency from that distance among players at his position, per Cleaning The Glass - but he's shown the potential to score from there. It's something he should get better at as he continues to develop.

With his 3-point shooting and ability to attack closeouts, Wood made for one of the most efficient spot-up scorers in the league this season, ranking in the 86th percentile.

A dunking machine

I lied.

The most intriguing part of Wood's game is how he can alternate between being a stretch four and a rim-running five.

Wood did the majority of his scoring on spot-ups this season, but he was also among the league leaders in scoring as the roll man in pick-and-rolls. As already mentioned, he was incredibly efficient, ranking in the 95th percentile.

Even though he can step out to the 3-point line, Wood rolls much more than he pops after setting screens.

Once again, he has the touch to score on the short roll...

...but it's the plays of him skying for an alley-oop that jump out.

It's not just that Wood is 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He's a good athlete as well. The combination makes him a huge target around the basket, the type that can make bad passes look good.

In addition to being a lob threat, Wood has good instincts as a cutter, can attack the offensive glass and can get out in transition.

There are a lot of bigs who make for decent scorers off of cuts and putbacks simply by virtue of their size, but there aren't many who run the floor as effortlessly as Wood does. He runs hard after misses, and there's not much that can be done when he gets downhill.

According to NBA.com, Wood had 123 dunk attempts this season, ranking him 13th in the league. The only players ahead of him who also attempted more 3s were Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. Antetokounmpo and Davis, however, combined to shoot 31.5 percent from 3-point range compared to 38.6 percent for Wood.

It's not normal for a player to dunk as much as Wood did this season while shooting as well as he did from 3.

An improving defender

Wood made encouraging strides defensively this season. He still has a long way to go - this is your reminder that he is only 25 years old and has basically only played a season-and-a-half's worth of games in his NBA career - but he has the tools to be an impact defender.

For one, Wood has the size to be a deterrent around the basket. He flashed some potential in that regard this season in averaging 0.9 blocks in 21.4 minutes per game and holding opponents to 54.6 percent shooting around the basket, a rate similar to Bam Adebayo, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel.

His 7-foot-3 wingspan is a tremendous asset and he's quick off the ground when contesting shots.

Secondly, Wood has some switchability. He guarded primarily power forwards and centres this season but spent enough time on point guards, shooting guards and small forwards to post a versatility rating of 68.9.

For context, that put Wood somewhere between the switch-everything Jerami Grant (78.0) and the defensive anchor Marc Gasol (57.4) on the versatility scale.

There's obviously a big difference between being able to switch onto multiple positions and doing it well, but Wood has the foot speed to stay in front of guards and the length to contest shots out on the perimeter.

For what it's worth, Wood graded out as a positive defender this season by ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus, Jacob Goldstein's Defensive Player Plus-Minus (PIPM) and FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR while being an ever-so-slight negative by Defensive Box Plus-Minus. He might not be someone a team builds a defence around, but he shouldn't stick out like a sore thumb on a good defensive team.

Outlook

The concern with Wood is that we haven't seen him play at a high level for very long.

Undrafted in 2015, Wood spent the first few seasons of his professional career in the D-League. As a result, he played in more NBA games this season (62) than the first four seasons of his career combined (51).

To boot, there were concerns about Wood's motivation coming into the NBA. As John Hollinger of The Athletic wrote recently: "Wood is one of those situations where the Pistons have to do some detective work. The background on him was that he wasn't a worker, which is a big reason he went undrafted in 2015."

Even with all that in mind, it's hard not to get lost in what Wood did this season. He proved to be the ideal big man for the modern NBA, someone who can play at a high level both inside and out while not being a complete liability on defence. All of that came to a head in the final 13 games of the season when he averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game on .562/.400/.757 shooting splits as Drummond's replacement in the starting lineup.

The Pistons won only one of those 13 games, but they were a completely different team with Wood on the court, going from being outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup to being outscored by 28.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.

Small sample size? Sure. Enough of a sample size to make Wood an appealing option for any team looking for a centre this offseason? Absolutely.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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