Suns could strengthen frontcourt, interior play with Christian Wood
NBA free agency is less than two weeks away, set to begin on Nov. 20.
Empire of the Suns will run through some of the names you need to know before then. Kellan Olson’s three-part offseason preview is a good starting point to get a full understanding of what the team could look to accomplish this offseason, especially when it comes to cap space.
The short answer is that there are plenty of intriguing possibilities.
What the Phoenix Suns do this offseason is going to be telling for their thought processes on the future.
One of them is how much they believe in size. Well, with Deandre Ayton, they traded for Aron Baynes and Dario Saric and then signed both Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo. So, early indications are they do indeed believe quite a bit.
But how they choose to retool the roster could shift them into either quite a small team or even more towards a traditional one.
They could retain restricted free agent Dario Saric, forming the entirety of the primary big rotation around him and Ayton, then add another forward/wing in free agency. From there, they’d go full force with a three/four-wing deep group, essentially scrapping the entire notion of the power forward position. We’ve covered Jerami Grant and Davis Bertans recently, and those are two names that fit.
In the other direction, they could target a name like unrestricted free agent Christian Wood to bolster the frontcourt.
Wood, 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, played a majority of his minutes at power forward for the Detroit Pistons last year.
After going undrafted in 2015 and bouncing around a few teams, a productive eight-game stint with New Orleans in 2018-19 led to the Pistons signing him.
Wood had a short leash with head coach Dwayne Casey before bursting onto the scene as one of the best sixth men in the league, and when Detroit traded Andre Drummond at the trade deadline, Wood in his last 13 games averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Players like Wood are rarely available at this stage of their careers. At 25 years old, he’s just coming into his own, but the league specifically wants teams to be able to hold onto young players when they do that, which is where restricted free agency comes into play.
Wood, however, didn’t find his footing until now and is in a unique case of having unrestricted free agency ahead of him, and figures to have plenty of suitors because of this.
The UNLV product shot 77% at the rim last season. I don’t need to tell you that’s pretty darn good! Actually, I guess I just did.
Anyway, Wood is a strange mix of not necessarily being an immediate quick-twitch athlete but incredibly explosive. If he has any real time to establish his feet, he’s flying.
He dunks with emphasis, the way we mere mortals dunk on nerf hoops. Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker are great passers who would quickly adapt to finding Wood in spots where he can do this.
Despite a first look at Wood making you think he’s a bit lanky, he’s actually got strength on that 214-pound frame and is as cozy as can be when it comes to a comfort level with physicality.
This is Steven freaking Adams he does this to.
That’s a crucial part of his game because Wood has put a ton of skill work into dribble drives out of the triple threat and attacking closeouts.
For a guy as long as Wood, that means he only needs two dribbles.
We’ve long discussed in this space how important that could be for Ayton’s game, and Wood’s already got it down.
And Wood can use those dribbles more because he’s now a respected three-point shooter, posting 38.9% on 140 total attempts.
For reference, last season there were only 10 big men to shoot at least 38% from there with at least 100 attempts. Even if that number regresses a bit, getting 35% or so from a big man is a number you’ll happily take.
Those three elements of Wood’s game plus how he gets on the glass adds up to an offensive piece that will produce at either position. He profiles as someone who can play center, and the team that signs him might ultimately move him there full time. If Wood’s numbers from last season are legit, he’s a true modern offensive 5 that brings gravity on rim runs while spacing the floor with his shooting.
The only place to pause, and I legitimately think this is why the Suns could possibly not even consider Wood, is that he averaged only 1.0 assists a game with 1.4 turnovers. He’s not much of a “0.5” player, and when you look at Baynes and Kaminsky, that’s the type of player general manager James Jones wants even at the big man spot.
Defensively, it’s a more challenging read to get on Wood.
He went in and out of being used as a center, even when Drummond was gone, so his rim protection as an anchor is a bit of an unknown.
What you did see was a guy that was attentive to protecting the basket.
In the opposite vein of a disinterested center not recognizing when it’s their job to defend that space, Wood is almost always there. Sometimes, however, as you’ll see later, that gets him in trouble when he’s a full step too close to the ball and too far from his man.
But he can certainly make a play on the ball.
He’s more about doing that than verticality, though, and he gets himself in trouble with that.
Even with Wood’s effort and engagement levels high, the agility is a bit low and his reading of the floor is behind, so Wood’s rotations are off. That’s why Casey was so strict with him early on in the season.
To that note on being a little out of the play, when Wood in this game was covering Rudy Gobert and all the screens he sets for the Utah Jazz, you could see him struggling to figure out how exactly to go about it.
There’s a precision to team defense and he’s just not there yet. Wood can get eliminated from a play because of the rigidity and seeing things a half-second slower.
Here, he cuts off Donovan Mitchell, but Brandon Knight (!) is fine and slides with Mitchell to cut off the drive. When Knight gets that one step, Wood needs to jet back to his man, but he rotates on the pass and is dead by then even without Gobert’s screen as the sealer.
Stuck in the divide of having shot-blocking ability but not being under the basket all the time, Wood gravitates towards the rim away from the corner too much, and will leave shooters.
In this next example, Gobert clears the lane, so Wood’s help isn’t a terrible idea, except when he abandons Bojan Bogdanovic in the corner.
And that specific example is a good one to use, because look at the players on the court for Detroit. Wood was starting with Knight, Tony Snell, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and John Henson in that game. It was already a pretty meh team in Detroit, and it was ravaged by injuries.
How much of this can you take from Wood in a terrible situation like that? In the middle of that 13-game tear for Wood was Knight posting 15.8 points and 5.0 assists over six games.
The good news is Wood had a 2.0 net rating, the top mark on the team for any Piston who played all season, and much higher than regulars Derrick Rose (-3.4), Bruce Brown (-4.3) and Tony Snell (-5.5).
Regardless, it’s a murky one-year sample size, and that’s what’s available to go over. Wood would have taken more three-pointers on a better, more competent team, and we would have gotten a far better read on him as a defender.
Wood is likely going to be somewhere around the range of the full mid-level exception, a $9.3 million per year tool that is the best way for teams over the cap to add a half-decent name still in free agency despite having no room.
A team or two will likely offer Wood that deal, so would the Suns be willing to go over that? He’s a name worth bringing up because it would mean 48 minutes of great production at center and some much needed secondary offense that can also slide over to the 4 spot. If Baynes is gone, that second unit is really going to need some more punch, and that’s what Wood brings.
Ayton and Wood could play together in spurts, but starting them both is a different story, especially with Kelly Oubre Jr. still in the fold. Oubre is simply a better player right now, and what Wood would theoretically bring suits the Suns better off the bench picking up minutes behind Ayton and leftovers at power forward.
That’s also the projected role for Saric, which begs the question of how to differentiate the two.
If Saric can be retained either on his qualifying offer or by going over the cap through his cap hold, then great. That doesn’t really affect much. More good players is the right way to go, and if Saric is relatively cheap, it’s a no-brainer.
But, if Saric is gonna have a decent price tag on him, then a choice has to be made between Saric and Wood. Is the team that much better with Wood as opposed to Saric? Because he figures to be much more expensive. And do the Suns want to pay that much money to another frontcourt player? Wood has more traditional size and is a rim protector, unlike Saric, whereas Saric is a “connector” for the offense, as head coach Monty Williams refers to him.
Unless the team deals Oubre to open up cap space, Wood’s contract would take up most of the room left and be the Suns’ highest-level signing too, so if they’ve got plans for big-time spending elsewhere this winter, they’d be gone.
But Wood is also a name that makes more sense if Oubre does indeed get dealt.
That would open up the window to fully allow the minutes for Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson of the starting 8-0 Bubble Suns to breathe, with Wood (and potentially Saric too) picking up the remainder of the 4/5 minutes. I’m not crazy about starting him with Ayton but it could work and would give the team a whole new dynamic on both ends around the rim.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, it’s not the tidiest of fits for Wood, but he’s ultimately a player the Suns could use and would have room for if they are indeed interested.