Fresh off of an incredibly disappointing loss to the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans, one thing is abundantly clear this early in the season.
Christian Wood needs to close games.
In the matchups against New Orleans and the Phoenix Suns, head coach Jason Kidd has turned to veteran Maxi Kleber to anchor the middle.
It isn’t working.
This is no knock against Kleber. He has a diverse and valuable skillset that earned him a much-deserved contract extension this offseason. He has been a great defender thus far, and his ability to stretch the floor creates driving lanes for Spencer Dinwiddie and Luka Dončić.
It is clear, however, that Christian Wood is a significantly better player. In just under 25 minutes per game, Wood is averaging roughly 25 points and 10 rebounds on 55.6% shooting from the floor and 50% shooting from three. These numbers, of course, are bound to regress – but Kleber never has, and likely never will, sniff Wood’s production.
Can’t Hold The Lead
Against Phoenix, Christian Wood was subbed out of the game at 6:41 in the fourth quarter, with the Mavs leading 95-84. When he checked back in with 2:19 left in the game, Phoenix held a 101-100 lead. Wood played only one more minute in the loss.
Against New Orleans, Christian Wood checked out of the game with 3:27 left, with the Mavs down by four. When he checked in again, the deficit had grown to five. Wood played only one more minute in the loss.
For those counting, in two games and roughly nine minutes of loosely defined “crunch time,” the Mavs have been outscored by 13 points with Wood on the bench.
The Offense is Too “Luka-Centric”
The eye test also reveals the necessity of this change. When Wood is out of the offense, the Mavs regress to the worst version of themselves. The offense becomes bogged down and clunky, with Dončić becoming ball-dominant out of necessity, Dinwiddie caving to the added playmaking pressures, and Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith getting pinned in the corners by their defenders.
The offense flows better when Wood plays with the rest of the closing lineup, as he has the skillset to alleviate all of these issues. Dončić has already shown great chemistry with him, and his better-than-expected high-post passing alleviates playmaking pressure from Dončić and Dinwiddie and provides open-shot opportunities for Bullock and Finney-Smith. He has also proved himself to be a great interior isolation scorer, which can diversify offensive sets and give Dončić an outlet when the play collapses.
Early season lineup tinkering is expected. Coaches need to see how games unfold before making lineup adjustments, and as last season showed, slow starts are typical for this team. This adjustment, however, is obvious.
Christian Wood is one of the team’s best players. Play him when it matters most.