Sunday, July 3, 2022

Breaking down how Christian Wood fits alongside Luka Doncic and the Mavericks

After making a surprise run to the Western Conference finals it was abundantly clear that the Dallas Mavericks were simply outmatched against the Golden State Warriors depth, especially in the frontcourt. Kevon Looney punished the Mavericks on the glass, grabbing offensive boards left and right for second-chance buckets. He averaged over 10 rebounds a game, and as a team the Warriors out-rebounded the Mavericks by a margin of 11.4 during the five-game series. 

Entering the offseason, it was obvious that Dallas needed a severe upgrade in the frontcourt, as the Warriors exposed the fact that a tandem of Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber isn’t going to cut it in the later rounds of the playoffs. And while free agency doesn’t begin for two more weeks, the Mavericks already addressed their frontcourt needs. It was reported Wednesday night that Dallas is trading Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjanovic and the No. 26 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to the Houston Rockets in exchange for big man Christian Wood.

Wood’s coming off a season in which he averaged nearly 18 points and 10.1 rebounds a game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point territory. He’s an athletic big who can play either the power forward position or center — though his below-average defense suggests he’ll spend more time at the five than the four. He can also stretch the floor out to the 3-point line.

If this archetype of player sounds familiar at all as it relates to the Mavericks, that’s because it’s eerily similar to Kristaps Porzingis‘ game. The Mavericks traded Porzingis at the deadline this season after a failed partnership with superstar Luka Doncic. But while these two players share similar offensive games, Wood comes significantly cheaper on an expiring $14.3 million contract, compared to the $69.8 million Porzingis is still owed over the next two years. Porzingis’ durability was also an issue as injuries crept up regularly throughout his time with Dallas, but I digress.

One of the first things that stand out about Wood’s game is his ability to get points in a variety of ways. During the 2020-21 season, Wood’s [short-lived] partnership with James Harden — before he was traded to the Nets — flourished as a pick-and-roll combo. As a roll man Wood can use his incredible athleticism to be a lob threat or finish strong at the rim:

…or he can pop out for jumper. 

Wood generated 1.179 points per possession as the roll man during that season, which ranked in the 65th percentile in the league. That number improved slightly this year, where he generated 1.2 points per possession. It’s like taking the positives of both Kleber and Powell and putting them into one player. Wood can excel equally at popping out for a jumper and being a lob threat, so the Mavericks won’t have to sacrifice one or the other when he’s on the floor. And while he won’t get as many shot attempts as he did in Houston, you can bet Wood will have the highest-quality looks of his career playing alongside Doncic. But Wood’s pick-and-roll efficiency isn’t the only reason this trade is a steal for the Mavericks. 

For quite some time Dallas has been in need of an additional scorer who could create for themselves outside of the guard position. Wood’s underrated handle and ability to score off the bounce give the Mavericks exactly that. He’s not going to be initiating the offense when Doncic is on the floor, but I can imagine him running with the second unit for stretches where he does stuff like this:

Wood’s also got impressive court vision for a center. He averaged a career-high 2.3 assists last season, nearly the same as Powell and Kleber combined. He can pass out of the post and on the move, which will open up Dallas’ offense more. 

The Mavericks just haven’t had a player who could do something like this before. Just imagine this exact play with Dorian Finney-Smith on the backdoor cut to the rim. 

Or this play, but with Doncic flashing toward the middle and posting up his defender. Because Wood has pulled the opposing big away from the basket, Doncic would have a green light in the paint against a typically smaller defender.

Wood will add a new facet to Dallas’ offense, he’ll take some of the rebounding load off of Doncic and overall be a significant upgrade to Powell as the starting center. But for everything that Wood can potentially add to this Mavericks squad, there are some areas of concern as well. 

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Wood isn’t a great rim protector, and he’s been known to take plays off on defense. There was also an incident this season in which he skipped mandatory COVID-19 testing prior to a game against the Denver Nuggets and caused shootaround to be delayed. He was benched to start the game, and when he did check in he showed minimal effort on both ends of the floor. Wood was confronted by assistant coach John Lucas at halftime for his lack of effort, and then refused to go back into the game in the second half. The whole ordeal resulted in a one-game suspension for Wood, who later apologized to the coaching staff for his behavior. 

If Wood brings that same demeanor to the Mavericks, where he isn’t putting in enough effort on defense, and causing problems in the locker room, then it could be an issue for Dallas. But a change of scenery and a winning environment can typically change those things. Wood might also be extra motivated this season given that this will be a contract year for the 26-year-old center. This will be his seventh team in seven seasons, but it will be the first time in his career where he’ll be a major part of a team with a winning culture. If Wood can buy in to what the Mavericks have already built and excel in his role, then Dallas will have significantly upgraded its frontcourt. If it doesn’t work out, then he’ll be off the books by the end of the season and the Mavericks wouldn’t have sacrificed anything noteworthy to get him. 

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