Mavericks must make a decision on Christian Wood

It took 30 games, two injuries and a disappearing act from JaVale McGee to finally see the Mavericks’ two most talented players together in the starting lineup. But don’t get your hopes up if you’re a Christian Wood fan. Although some of his recent scores are reminiscent of Dirk Nowitzki (32 points and 12 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers and 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers), there’s a good chance he’ll come back to the bench once. Dwight Powell returns to the lineup. Wood’s scoring efficiency is on par with Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis, yet the enigmatic big man remains Dallas’ third or even fourth offensive option on some nights.

Are Jason Kidd and his staff overthinking this?

As is the case with most Mavericks-related questions these days, the answer isn’t as straightforward as it seems. After all, six other NBA teams have already tried to solve the Christian Wood dilemma. For the Mavericks, that challenge has multiple layers and long-term team-development implications, because evaluating Wood is nearly impossible without considering his next contract.

But before we get too deep into the question of Wood’s future in Dallas, it will be eligible to sign A four-year, $77 million contract extension on Dec. 23: The Mavericks have a lot of short-term problems. They are currently in 10th place in the Western Conference, about to fall out of the field. Three weeks ago, in my revision in the fourth of the season, I wrote that I expected more adjustments in the margins. I’ve also made the disclaimer that if the Mavericks are still stuck in neutral come Christmas, it’s time for a more radical style change. Well, Christmas is here, and the Mavericks just dipped below .500 after their last disappointing loss to Minnesota, which featured ejections for Kidd and Luka Doncic. More importantly, they’re running out of options and bodies on their injury-ravaged roster.

with mcgee unplayable and Maxi Kleber was out indefinitely (and probably for the season) after undergo surgery With a torn right hamstring, Kidd has two functional options up front. One of them is Powell, who has sat out the past two games with a left thigh contusion and is averaging less than 17 minutes per game. The other is Wood. This means that a coaching staff that prides itself on building a defense culture must first rely on all-offensive lineups that present Wood as the one big man much sooner than they planned and, based on what we saw at the start of the season. much more than they ever wanted. Unless the front office finds improvements elsewhere, the “we’ll get over you” strategy might be the only way the Mavericks survive the next few months.

It’s not that this approach can’t work and be a lot of fun, at least in the regular season. On nights when things fall apart, like the aforementioned game against the Trail Blazers, an additional efficient second option next to Doncic is a nightmare for any NBA defense. And “efficient” understates what Wood brings to the table: Among the top 30 players to score every 36 minutes, he trails only Nikola Jokic, Steph Curry, Zion Williamson and Lauri Markkanen in effective field goal percentage. He can score a ton, and there are nights when he looks like one of the most versatile greats in the NBA. We’ve seen him in streaks when the Mavericks decide to run the offense through him, mostly early in the fourth quarter when Doncic takes his scheduled rest. When paired with Doncic, Wood is the pick-and-roll partner fans imagined Kristaps Porzingis could be: willing to attack the rim on the roll, an accurate three-point threat up the middle, and more than capable of punishing. to smaller defenders after a switch in post. Dallas scores 122.1 points per 100 possessions with Wood and Doncic on the floor at the same time, which ranks in the 97th percentile of all NBA rosters with at least 100 possessions played. Numbers like these make it difficult for some Mavericks fans to understand why it took several injuries for Kidd to finally release Wood as a 30-minute-per-game starter.

Wood’s defense is what makes the coach reluctant to fully commit to him. His lack of lateral quickness means he is often late in rotations or contested shots in the paint, while Wood himself has acknowledged that minimizing their defensive lapses It is the key for him to build trust with the coaching staff. (Some of the growing pains that come with more responsibility and more decision-making have seeped into other aspects of Wood’s game, too: Both his turnover rate and foul rate are at career highs. ).

He’s just not the defensive anchor this team needs to replicate the formula that got this team to the Western Conference Finals. The Mavericks tried to fill Wood’s limitations and reduce liability by playing him alongside Kleber as much as possible, but the German’s absence means Wood’s protector is gone. Asking Wood to play defense is one thing. Asking her to be his backbone is quite another. And so far, that’s gone as badly as the Mavericks could have feared. With injuries piling up and Wood playing mostly center, the Mavericks defense has fallen off a cliff, ranking 26th in his last seven games.

The defensive adjustment is also where the question of Wood’s long-term future becomes really difficult. If Dallas offers Wood a contract extension and he accepts it, it will be in the range of $18 million to $19 million per year, a threshold that 72 players have reached in the NBA. By my analysis of Spotrac Salary Data only 22 of them are big men.

That’s not too surprising, given that guards and forwards dominate the current NBA landscape. In the chart above, you see names like Clint Capela, Aaron Gordon and Domantas Sabonis in that $18 million to $19 million salary range. They are all more complete players than Wood.

If Dallas doesn’t offer Wood the extension, they would still keep their Bird Rights going into free agency. But then it could cost upwards of $20 million a year to retain it, and that’s when things can get problematic. Anything beyond that number for a great who isn’t an MVP-caliber player (like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid), or a defensive anchor (like Rudy Gobert, Jaren Jackson Jr., Draymond Green, Bam Adebayo or Anthony Davis) is probably not a smart team building strategy. High-scoring power forwards who don’t defend at an above-average rate or can create shots for others are one of the biggest inefficiencies on the NBA market right now. (Think Julius Randle and John Collins.) Don’t take my word for it; after all, the Mavericks learned that lesson the hard way with Porzingis. And as efficient as Wood has been this season, the offense remains a shambles when he’s not co-opting with Doncic, plummeting to 107.9 points per 100 possessions. (For comparison, the Charlotte Hornets are the worst offense in the NBA at 108.6.)

So the Mavericks have a dilemma on their hands. Even if they offer the extension, there’s no guarantee Wood will accept it. Based on the things we’ve seen so far, it’s not unreasonable to think there’s a gap between how both sides perceive Wood’s value. Signs of Wood and his camp point to the fact that they think of him as a full-time starter, if not a borderline All-Star. The handling the Mavericks have given him thus far, on the other hand, makes me believe they see him as a scoring spark, one who can change the tone of the game off the bench but is better suited playing behind another defensive anchor. A supercharged version of Bobby Portis playing behind Brook Lopez in Milwaukee.

One problem for Dallas is that they don’t have Lopez. The closest facsimile of him has just suffered a serious injury. And while the pressure is on the Mavericks to find your version From the Jrue Holiday trade, the fact that his Khris Middleton left for New York in the summer makes the situation even more difficult. This last one was a big blow, and now the Mavericks face a situation similar to what they faced with Jalen Brunson last year. The Mavericks needed Brunson to present himself as a clear second choice when things looked bleak during the COVID outbreak last December and later in April when Doncic missed the first three games of the playoffs. His chances of turning around this season depend on Wood showing that he can be as reliable as Brunson was once he moved into the starting lineup. The hope is that the lineups with Doncic and Wood continue to flourish in the extended playing offense, even against opposing starting units. But even if that happens, Kidd and Sean Sweeney need to be creative enough to build enough protections around both of them so things don’t fall apart on defense. We’ll see if the Mavericks explore surrounding Doncic and Wood with their best wing correctors, Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Green and Reggie Bullock, once they’re all available again.

And if they succeed and save this season, Dallas’ reward will be the same challenge they faced when Brunson entered free agency. Wood would be a player they didn’t buy or fully commit to early on, and might have reached the price range they’re willing to pay by the time they did. Nico Harrison and Co. need to be much more proactive this time around, which means considering a trade if the right deal happens. The Mavericks can’t afford to lose Wood for nothing.

What can they afford to do when he’s on the court? That is a much bigger question. And the answer will shape the rest of Dallas’ season.


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Iztok Franko covers the Mavericks for StrongSide. He is an analyst who uncovers hidden stories in NBA and basketball data…

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