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21 Days Until Sixers: Can Christian Wood Break Through?

Will Wood finally fulfill the ability his prodigious tools provide, or will he flame out for the last team willing to give him a shot?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Wood has had a rollercoaster of a last few years. As a high school senior at Findlay Prep, he was lightly recruited, with only USC and his hometown UNLV extending scholarship offers. Scouts dinged him for playing without effort, saying:

He needs to play with greater energy and utilize his size more often to diversify his game. At the next level he'll need to do more at both ends than just float around the perimeter and launch 3-point shots.

Despite prodigious physical tools that should have catapulted him towards the top of his recruiting class, even one as talented as the vaunted high school class of 2013, Wood was perceived as only a 4-star recruit, and ESPN ranked him 71st in the class.

After a freshman season in which he saw little of the court, Wood finally broke through this past year at UNLV. He averaged an impressive 19 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes, while shooting a promising percentage from the line and providing some defensive mettle with more than 3 blocks per 40 minutes. It looked like he was beginning to reach his potential, and teams took notice, as he shot up draft boards and was projected as high as a late lottery pick at times in the season.

Of course, he wasn't selected in the lottery. In fact, he wasn't selected at all, due to terrible performance in interviews and a shockingly high body fat percentage measured at the draft combine. It's clear that, since no one was willing to take even a second round flyer on him, concerns about his work ethic are real and justified. How can a player whose only objective is to get in shape show up at the combine as overweight as he was? How could he be so uninterested?

Look. It's no secret that I've been a huge proponent of Wood for months. When Matt and I exchanged e-mails a week before the draft, I had the Suns select him at 13. That made me look brilliant. (Of course they took Devin Booker. Of course they did.)

In my defense, I could only look at the on court production, and his output was truly good there.

Wood's allure starts with his shooting ability. Scouts have been frustrated with his unwillingness to bang down low, but a true threat from the 4 position provides a lot of value in the modern NBA. And of the group of forwards available in the back end of the lottery, Wood seems to be the most likely to reach his shooting ceiling. He shot an impressive 45% on mid-range jumpers, and stroked at a 75% clip from the free throw line. While his 3-point percentage wasn't as high, he shot confidently from behind the arc (shooting three times as many 3's as Bobby Portis and Trey Lyles did last year), and some of his poor percentages can be attributed to his shot selection, which was less than ideal.

As a a dive-man in the pick and roll, Wood offers a decent amount of potential given his springy leaping ability and his long, 7'3 wingspan. A 4-man who is dangerous both as a pogo-stick, dunker and as a pick and pop threat can really impact how defenses function. And as an in-between player, catching on the move at the foul line, Wood also shows promise due to a decent handle, a quick first step, and the length to convert floaters.

Wood's decision-making unmistakably requires improvement, but these are offensive tools that you work with. The hope would be that putting him in a smaller role and coaching him up would improve him enough such that the positives far outweigh the negatives on the offensive end.

On defense, he again has all the tools to be an impact player. Wood's block percentage of 8.2% was outstanding for power forwards last year.

Player Block %
Christian Wood 8.2
Kevon Looney 3.3
Cliff Alexander 7.7
Frank Kaminsky 4.5
Trey Lyles 2.1
Bobby Portis 4.8
Montrezl Harrell 3.7
Jarell Martin 1.8
Jordan Mickey 9.6

Only Mickey, who was heralded for his uncanny ability to protect the rim at such a short height, surpassed Wood's totals. And the vast majority of power forward prospects didn't even approach his ability as a rim protector.

Further, Wood seems like an ideal pick and roll defender. He's quick enough to hedge on the perimeter and recover to the roll man, which is quickly becoming the single most important attribute for big defenders.

Undoubtedly, Wood needs to improve his body. He can't hold position in the post either on offense or on defense, and he's almost certainly in poor shape relative to what the Sixers expect out of their players. And therein lies the rub-- given all the talent and advantages Wood possesses, he has no excuse for his lack of effort and his consistent inability to improve the things within his control.

Hopefully, he'll demonstrate a change of heart over the next few weeks, and Hinkie will see fit to keep him around. Wood only just turned 20, despite having played two full seasons of college ball, and if he ever puts it all together, he could be a true keeper-- the type of player who complements any type of lineup on both offense and defense. As it is, he'll need to impress just to make the roster this year. He started out well last night, providing one of the stronger bench showings for the Sixers, scoring 4 points and adding 3 rebounds and an emphatic block in 10 minutes. He'll need to keep it up to make the roster.

Perhaps, after hitting another recent low on the roller coaster of his life, he's due for another high, having learned from his mistakes. Hopefully, the Sixers will benefit from that high.

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