OK, be honest with me: Before this Mavericks season started Wednesday in Phoenix, did you know Christian Wood could do this?
That’s Wood, the Mavericks much-hyped offseason acquisition, throwing a really nice and decisive pass to the corner off the dribble to an open Maxi Kleber. Kleber would not end up shooting off this pass, electing to move the ball around for a more open shot, but it was still a great pass that opened up the possession.
Wood has been making a lot of great passes early in his Mavericks tenure. It’s only been two games, but it appears Wood is a good passer. He has five assists in his 49 total played minutes so far this season, which doesn’t sound like a ton, but remember Wood is coming to the Mavericks after spending two seasons scoring the hell out of the ball in Houston. Much of the anticipation around Wood in a Mavericks uniform was how great he’d look next to the best playmaker he’s every played with in Luka Doncic, and how desperately the Mavericks would need his scoring ability to complement Doncic and propel the Mavericks whenever Doncic was off the floor.
Instead of Doncic just amplifying what Wood is already good at, Wood is showing out in a way I didn’t anticipate. With the caveat that this is an extremely small sample size, Wood is second of the Mavericks regular rotation players with an 18.5 assist percentage (the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted on while they were on the floor), according to NBA.com’s stats site. To put that number into perspective, if Wood were on last season’s Mavericks he’d easily be fourth at assist percentage, behind Doncic, Jalen Brunson, and Spencer Dinwiddie. Kristaps Porzingis assist percentage with the Mavericks last season was 11.6. The funny thing about these numbers is that they could be even better — Wood should have about three or four more assists this season, as some of the players he’s found open under the basket have gotten their shot blocked.
It’s not shocking that Wood is looking smooth in the Mavericks spread pick and roll attack — as I wrote this summer, Wood’s gifts fit real nice for what Doncic and the Mavericks like to do. What is surprising is that for a guy who got labeled a “good stats, bad team” guy and jumped from team to team throughout his career, he has some pretty solid vision and passing instincts!
Wood catching with space in the short roll after setting a screen is probably the most valuable read he needs to make, and through two games he’s passed with flying colors. With the Mavericks lacking playmaking depth, teams will likely get more brazen with their traps and hedges against Doncic and Dinwiddie in the pick and roll. That’s where Wood being able to manipulate that space to his advantage is key, and finding shooters and cutters is a huge, huge plus to the Mavericks offense.
If Wood continues to make these passes, teams will eventually stay home on the shooters and cutters, allowing Wood to do what he actually does best — score. While I doubt Wood will start taking jumpers from the free throw line extended area (Wood only took 158 total midrange shots across the last three seasons and shot poorly on them), he can use that space as a runway to the paint, where he’s been a fantastic finisher throughout his career. Saturday against Memphis, he used that runway to live at the free throw line, going 12-of-14.
What’s really exciting about Wood’s passing so far, is it doesn’t seem to just be a byproduct of the Mavericks great spacing and two dynamic lead guards. Wood has shown some legitimate playmaking chops in these two games, making some passes that have made me raise an eyebrow or two.
That is 6’10 Christian Wood attacking a closeout from beyond the three point line and using his eyes to manipulate the defense and creating an open three point look for Dorian Finney-Smith, which Smith drains. I mean, when we talk about the Mavericks needing a second star next to Doncic, these are the types of plays that have to be made, which simply weren’t consistently from the players the Mavericks have tried out in that role that last three seasons.
Dallas has a lot of expectations this season after a surprise trip to the Western Conference Finals last season and if Wood’s passing is for real, it’s going to be awfully easier for the Mavericks to reach their own lofty goals. This could get really, really, fun. It is so far.