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After a Finals-induced hiatus, we're back at it with draft preparation, and several things have happened in the meantime. Kristaps Porzingis has taken the draft world by storm. The New York Knicks are working out late-lottery picks for some reason. Cameron Payne went from an early-20s possibility for the Cleveland Cavaliers to a near-lock for the lottery. Seemingly every late-1st round European prospect dropped out of the draft. And the top eight picks have become a quagmire of rumors, speculation and cancelled workouts.
Where does that leave the Cavs? Well, they're still picking 24th, and still are working with a variety of options based on what unfolds in front of them. Among those options are a bounty of bigs who could potentially slot in as the fourth guy behind Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Timofey Mozgov. Today we consider one of those guys who the Cavs have reportedly worked out already: UNLV's Christian Wood.
(h/t to @Dakota_Schmidt of Ridiculous Upside for the video)
Who is Christian Wood?
Wood is a long, lanky power forward prospect from UNLV. He's an intriguing prospect because of his combination of youth (19 year-old sophomore), length (6'11" with a 7'3" wingspan), and a skill set that includes abilities out to the perimeter on both ends. He is incredibly raw, but flashed potential in a number of directions last year while averaging 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game for the Runnin' Rebels. Wood has some bad habits, but his physical profile is one that entices a lot of NBA personnel who see a potential Serge Ibaka type that can protect the rim and space the floor. He's ranked 25th by Draft Express and CBS Sports, while Bleacher Report has him 21st.
Wood has the height and wingspan to compete with nearly any big at the next level. It's hard not to get excited about a guy with a 9'4" standing reach, and he had the second-largest hands at the combine behind only Robert Upshaw. He's a strong leaper and pretty quick, too, which is why he projects as a potentially strong rim protector, and he'll throw down some highlight dunks if given the chance. Wood definitely needs to get stronger, though. He weighed just 216 pounds at the combine, has a rail-thin lower body, and tested with one of the higher body fat percentages (14.7 percent) at the combine, indicating he's lacking in muscle. This negatively affects several aspects of his game, including his ability to finish through contact and defend the post. Wood's body covers the acreage you want in an NBA big, but he's got a lot of filling out to do before he can really be effective at the next level.
Wood played a fair amount on the perimeter in UNLV's offense, and he's got the potential to be very versatile at the next level. As you can see in the video above, Wood did damage in a variety of ways offensively for the Rebels. I love Wood's face-up game from 15-18 feet; he's decisive, methodical, and confident in both his ability to get to the rim and pull-up, and he's agile enough that he can beat most defenders from that spot. He is great at finishing at the rim overall, and his activity and athleticism will help him be a good offensive rebounder. His shooting mechanics are also promising. He's sometimes a little slow to release the ball, but he showed flashes as a spot-up shooter and pick-n-pop guy, and has potential to space the floor at the NBA level.
There are some drawbacks to Wood's offensive game, though, and they are major ones. Wood's great at facing up, but his back-to-the-basket game is a struggle, as he doesn't have the strength to fight for position, and his move repertoire basically consists of a turnaround leaner and nothing else. Wood also has potential as a pick-n-roll finisher with his length and quickness, but he's not great at setting screens, and UNLV barely ran him through those sets, because this is UNLV's free-for-all offense that basically functions like pick-up basketball. That style of play also highlighted another big red flag for Wood, in that his decision-making can fluctuate between "hesitant and unaware" to "Josh Smith." Watch this video for a greatest hits of Wood's early-shot clock bricks and step-back long twos. He's not a great passer either, and there are real questions about whether he can transition into being an offensive role player or if he'll hijack an offense.
However, you can't deny there's some talent here with Wood, and he's going to be able to score and rebound well. At the very least, he can probably handle the rock and score in volume on bench-heavy units, and that's something that can get you an NBA role. Just ask Mo Speights.
It's the same story on defense as it is on offense with Wood; Plenty of potential, but some nagging traits and habits that might preclude him from being a valuable NBA defender. Wood's biggest draw is his versatility on the defensive end. His athleticism and quickness allowed him to play multiple spots in UNLV's zone, and he defended on the perimeter a fair amount in addition to his work as a shot blocker. Wood can stay with wings pretty easily, and he's got potential in the pick-n-roll, because he can switch easily and hedge and recovers well. He's also got good instincts as a shot blocker, and while he might not be a true rim protector right now (He shies from contact and can get pushed off the spot by a player driving to the rim), the hope is that he can add bulk and become one.
The counter to that is that his strength and feel for the game might never get to the point where it needs to be for Wood to truly be a good defensive player. Wood gets pushed around easily on the block and by stronger players driving on him, and he's not great at rebounding, because even though he's got a great nose for the ball off the glass, he struggles to box out effectively. He also can get lost off the ball at times, and his effort isn't always there. His footwork needs work on the perimeter so he can consistently keep guys in front of him.
Five years from now, Wood should be a good defensive player if he goes to the right situation. He should be able to both protect the rim, guard stretch fours, and even shift down to the perimeter on stronger guys like Draymond Green. However, at least initially, teams will probably get the most use out of Wood by hiding him on a non-option big, and having him prowl as a weakside shot-blocker rather than asking him to do too much on the ball.
I really wonder where Wood's head will be at on the next level. He wasn't necessarily a problem child in college, but his inconsistencies on both ends of the floor and play that suggests he wants to be a perimeter player aren't exactly promising. When Wood is engaged defensively, he's great off the ball, and if he plays to his strengths with face-ups and pick-and-rolls offensively, he could be really efficient. But too many times at UNLV he lost his man off the ball, mistimed a switch, or threw up a three with 20-something seconds on the shot clock. He has to mature both physically and mentally to truly be an effective NBA player. If he does, then he's going to be a steal for some team in the late-20s. However, he's probably got an equal chance of being a steal or a bust, which is why he's in position for a team like the Cavs to consider him instead of being on par with guys like Bobby Portis and Trey Lyles.
The best-case scenario prospect I'd compare Wood to is Donatas Motiejunas. A similarly-built four who can step out to the 3-point line occasionally on both ends, Motiejunas took a few years to develop, but turned a fledgling post game into a legitimate offensive force when Dwight Howard got injured for the Houston Rockets last year. If Wood can progress at the same rate with his face-up game and three-pointer, he could be a similar level offensive player who can space the floor next to a more traditional five while being a better defensive presence to Motiejunas. However, for every Motiejunas or Taj Gibson that does pan out late in the first round, there's a Craig Brackins to go with him. So Wood could go that route very easily if he lands in the wrong spot.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
Wood would definitely be spending significant time in Canton next year, both because he needs it and because the Charge staff seems to work well with bigs - Thompson Arinze Onuaku, Kevin Jones, Henry Sims, etc. If he did stay with the Cavs' main roster, I'd assume he'd play sparingly as a defensive safety valve if Mozgov got in foul trouble and/or Anderson Varejao is injured. As he developed, Wood could operate as a defensive stopper and scoring option on bench units next to Thompson, and potentially could fit in some interesting five-out lineups next to Love or LeBron. The idea he could be the Cavs' starting center post-Mozgov isn't out of the question. Unfortunately, on a team with an immediate title window, developing Wood probably isn't on the agenda, and the chance he wouldn't get the development attention he needs and would be out of the league in three years is significant, too. Taking Wood could work, but there are many other players I like more for this team.