Coronavirus stalls Pistons' Christian Wood at pinnacle of his career

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — It was maybe the best week of basketball in Christian Wood’s life.

In a four-game span, he set a new career high three times: 29 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 30 points versus the Utah Jazz and 32 points against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The peak period in Wood’s nomadic four NBA seasons was moving toward the spotlight, with him as the breakout centerpiece in the Pistons’ impromptu rebuild.

The spotlight shifted Saturday, after Wood had a preliminary positive test for COVID-19/coronavirus. He became the third NBA player to test positive, after Utah Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell announced their status this week.

Pistons center Christian Wood's remarkable season put him in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award.

The NBA suspended the remainder of the season on Wednesday night, after Gobert’s preliminary positive result. Wood’s diagnosis is significant because the Pistons hosted the Jazz on March 7 at Little Caesars Arena and Wood guarded Gobert that night, though it’s not certain if that’s when he contracted the virus.  

“He feels 100-percent fine,” Wood’s agent, Adam Pensack, emailed The News on Saturday.

In the aftermath, Wood’s name has become more renowned in the NBA, and around the world, for a positive COVID-19 test than his remarkable season — one that should elevate him in the conversation for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

After pitstops in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans, Wood came to the Pistons in the summer, just looking for an opportunity. He’s made the most of his chance, going from 10.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 38 percent on 3-pointers in about 18 minutes per game in the first 49 games.

When the Pistons moved toward a rebuild after trading Andre Drummond on Feb. 6, Wood moved into a starting role and his numbers jumped: 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 40 percent from beyond the arc, averaging 34.2 minutes in the last 13 games.

“I wouldn't say it’s taken me surprise,” Wood said last week. “I think I was always been confident with myself before the (Drummond) trade. I think I was doing great then and only getting like 18 minutes.”

He was the last player to make the Pistons’ roster this season, beating out veteran Joe Johnson at the end of training camp. Wood was on a non-guaranteed contract that didn’t fully vest for his full veteran-minimum of $1.6 million until January.

It’s the biggest contract of his career but when Wood becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer, he's is in line for a big payday, possibly in the range of $10 million or more per season. The Pistons have Wood’s early Bird rights, which means they can outbid another team coveting Wood in free agency.

"No, I'm not surprised; he's extremely talented," Blake Griffin said. "His talent is unbelievable. It's at a high (level)."

With some of his recent highlights, Wood likely will draw more attention for the dominant player he’s become, including a mammoth dunk over Thunder center Steven Adams, which drew praise from coach Dwane Casey.  

“Wood caught him at the right time and hit his shoulder and I think it was probably more Adams losing his balance as much as Christian knocking him off — but that's the strength he has to develop, to be able to do that consistently,” Casey said. “And not only offensively, but he's got to be able to do it to get him off the boards and box out and hold his spot in a rebounding position.”

Many of Wood’s highlights this season end with a dunk, many of which came against reserves, but in recent weeks, they’ve come against anyone around the rim, including Gobert, a two-time defensive player of the year. Beyond that, he's expanded his game beyond the 3-point line and has become a driving threat as well. 

“My mindset has been to attack and take advantage of the opportunity. With (Derrick Rose) gone, I have to be one of the first options for the team and I’ve been doing a good job of helping my team score,” Wood said. “Dunk it. That’s always been my mindset this whole season. Attack the rim with ferocity and keep going until they stop me.”


Following two good seasons at Nevada-Las Vegas, Wood left for the NBA Draft at age 19. As a sophomore, he posted 15.7 points and 10 rebounds but even with his 6-foot-10 wiry frame, 7-foot-2 wingspan and pogo-stick jumping ability, he wasn’t a first-round pick.

In fact, he wasn’t drafted at all, a disappointment that Wood called “a stunner.”  

Wood latched on with the Sixers during their rebuilding “Process” for 17 games, shuttling back and forth from their G League team, the Delaware 87ers, throughout most of the season. He had similar luck with the Hornets and their development team, the Greensboro Swarm and the Bucks (Wisconsin Herd).

That’s when things started to come together, but tough roster decisions and “the numbers game” have been tougher for Wood to dodge than the likes of Gobert, Adams or Joel Embiid.

“Yeah. After a while, after I was in the G League so much, up and down, (not making it in the NBA) was kind of in the back of my head, but I never wanted to quit,” Wood said. “I always believed in myself, always knew what I was capable of doing on the court if given an opportunity.

“Even in the limited minutes I was playing, you know with certain teams, with Milwaukee and New Orleans, I think I was doing good, so that was definitely a plus for me to tell me, keep my head to keep going.”

The last stint, with the Pelicans, proved to be pivotal for Wood, because he started to get consistent minutes and to show that he could play in the paint and beyond the 3-point arc, with four games of at least 20 points.

“It was really a confidence-booster for me. I played against the Warriors and had 26 points to finish off the season. It was huge for me the last eight games because coach (Alvin) Gentry gave me a chance, an opportunity to play,” Wood said. “He liked my game; it was just that at the end of the summer, I couldn't really stay because of numbers; it wasn't right for me.”

The Pistons might be the right place at the right time for Wood, after paying his dues in the G League and getting a true shot, showing his growth on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.  

“He's shooting it at a high rate right now. It's fun to watch somebody go undrafted, play in the G League and grow every year,” said Jordan McRae, who played with Wood with the 87ers and signed with the Pistons for the rest of the season. “I think a lot of the NBA is opportunity; his opportunity presented itself and he's taken full advantage of it all year.”

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard