It’s Christmas Eve and Christian Wood’s first day back with the Milwaukee Bucks after a two-week stint in the G League with the Wisconsin Herd. Practice has been over for a while – Brook Lopez is hitting a volleyball, Khris Middleton is getting ready to finish his Christmas shopping – and Wood is in his socks hanging out on the bleachers at Trevor Day School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
His work for the day, though, isn’t done. That’s because Giannis Antetokounmpo wants more.
“You better get some shoes on,” Antetokounmpo bellows, calling Wood out to the court to participate in one-on-one with him, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson.
Wood knows it’s best to oblige. He drops everything and slips on his sneakers and gets back on the court.
“It feels good to be back,” Wood said of returning to the Bucks. “I’ve been getting better, doing what I’m supposed to do, handling my business. I’ve been working on my strength and conditioning program, pretty much just doing all the little things.”
Those little things have amounted to some big-time statistics. During six games with the Herd while on assignment from Dec. 7-22, Wood led the team in scoring in each while averaging 32.5 points per game.
Wood’s stint with the Herd included a return to Las Vegas, where he played two seasons during college at UNLV and starred as a member of Milwaukee’s summer league entry in July. He was a standout there again, averaging 34.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks in two games at the G League Winter Showcase, impressing the assembled scouts, coaches and front-office members as he earned a spot on the all-Showcase first team.
In 11 appearances with the Herd, Wood is averaging 28.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
It’s hard to equate those numbers from the G League – where Wood is more of an offensive focal point against less defensive-minded competition – to what he can do against front-line NBA competition, but Wood is confident in his skills.
At the very least, after earning an NBA roster spot in Bucks training camp, he’s looking forward to his next chance to prove himself at the NBA level.
“If I can do it down there I can do it up here, that’s my mindset,” Wood said. “It’s frustrating, but at the end of the day I know I can play, I know I can help this team win ball games.”
Wood has appeared in six regular-season games with the Bucks this season, averaging 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 37 minutes mostly at the end of blowout wins. A 6-foot-10 forward, Wood has made 9 of 17 shots, including 2 for 4 on three-pointers.
With his summer-league performance, strong showing during the preseason to earn his roster spot and now monster numbers in the G League, Wood has gained something of a cult following in Milwaukee. His athleticism, scoring and versatility on defense seem like good fits off the bench for the Bucks.
Like a backup quarterback, he’s everyone’s favorite player at moments when things aren’t going right. However, for the Bucks (23-10), owners of the second-best record in the NBA as of Wednesday afternoon, things have mostly gone according to plan.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has tried various players in the rotation with positive results, including getting good minutes from previous draft pick-ups Thon Maker, D.J. Wilson and Sterling Brown.
“Everybody on the team plays with confidence, from the beginning of the bench to the end of the bench,” Wood said. “It’s just something that Bud builds in his players, so every time they go in the game they have the ultimate confidence to shoot and play free and do whatever they want on the floor. I have that same confidence.”
Milwaukee’s new-found depth is certainly a positive development for the team, but it has made Wood’s climb up the roster more of an uphill battle. He hasn’t broken through into Milwaukee’s rotation, even after forward Ersan Ilyasova went down with a broken nose on Dec. 16.
Instead of Wood, Budenholzer summoned Wilson from the Herd and Wilson has made that decision look wise, putting together solid two-way showings over the past five games.
“Christian had a little bit of an opportunity early and now D.J.’s getting one,” Budenholzer said last week, referencing Wood being active for 12 of the first two dozen games while Wilson was out with a right hamstring strain.
“We feel like D.J.’s earned it. Christian’s been good down there, I mean, he puts up huge numbers, he plays well. So, it’s nice to actually have two guys that you feel confident that you could bring up and put in a game.”
When that time will be is yet to be determined. However, it won’t be Thursday when the Bucks host the New York Knicks (9-26) at 7 p.m. at Fiserv Forum in a rematch of their contest on Christmas.
That’s because on Wednesday night the Bucks reassigned Wood to the Herd. His two-day stint with the Bucks was just a chance to be with the team at Christmas while the Herd was out of action.
As he goes up and down, Wood knows he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. Coaches, teammates and members of the organization see the work he’s putting in, have voiced their belief he’s doing well and keep telling him to keep it up.
“At the end of the day, it’s just about me getting better and me staying prepared and healthy and ready for when my time comes because I know it’s going to come,” Wood said.