The Mavericks have committed to the same team formula for all but the spring of 2022 since Luka Doncic finished his rookie season: pair Doncic with a stretch big and wing shooters. On paper, this formula is a basketball dream. A ball-dominant guard, who is excellent in the pick-and-roll, benefiting from the space a big with range creates, while the big benefits from the playmaking and passing ability from the guard is basketball poetry. Theoretically, this sort of yin-yang relationship should be ideal for players of these archetypes. Realistically, as we have seen, the pairing is not a perfect marriage, and it’s time to try something different.
The first iteration was Kristaps Porzingis, and to be fair to him there was probably too much pressure to be Doncic’s running mate that quickly after suffering a major injury. Nevertheless, the duo ultimately did not work out, and they maintained around a 0 net rating while they shared the floor from 2020 to 2022. Their effectiveness together hit a valley when Porzingis was relegated to a “stand-in-the-corner” role during the 2021 playoffs.
The problem with Doncic and Porzingis had nothing to do with either of their individual talents. It had everything to do with the direction of the league, and the increase in talented wings. Teams are not being built like Kobe and Shaq anymore, but rather like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. One central force surrounded by wings with gravity of their own is the standard for winning currently. The reason is simple: in the playoffs, the games will come down to players being able to handle the ball and make a play, and when your best player is doubled, a big, even a stretch big with mobility, is going to get swallowed up.
This is what makes teams like the Celtics, Bucks, Suns, Nuggets, 76ers, and Warriors perennial contenders. They all have a superstar surrounded by at least two playmaking wings or big guards who command respect in their own right. Currently, the Dallas Mavericks have maybe one and a half of those things, which is no recipe for playoff success down the line.
The current iteration of the stretch big role is Christian Wood. I have been very vocal about Wood needing more minutes, and I still believe he does. If the Mavericks are going to roll with the current roster for this year, then Wood has to be a big part of their success. The stretch big pairing with Doncic is not terrible by any means, but its ceiling is a good regular season team. That’s what the Mavericks can be; a fifth seed caliber team that relies on players making shots (rather than players making plays), who can win a playoff series depending on the matchup, and then anything can happen from there.
But if they want to get where they want to go, they need to punt from the current blueprint. Last season, from October through February when the Mavericks had Porzingis, Doncic averaged 27.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists on 44 percent shooting (33.5 from three). After the trade, Doncic blossomed to 30.4 points, 9 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game on 48 percent shooting (39 percent from three). When the Mavericks had Jalen Brunson, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Luka Doncic all playing, Doncic was the best version of himself that we have seen.
There is no rocket science involved, the evolution of shooting and increase in talent has pushed the good teams away from relying on players with deficiencies in playmaking as their second best player. In a more-than-ever skill based league, the Mavericks have a severe lack of “skill” in the ball-handling and playmaking departments, and playing Doncic alongside a big who either posts up or shoots threes puts too much pressure on him. Simply put, the Mavericks need to build their team to take some of the load off of Doncic, rather than complement a playstyle that requires him to take on such a large load.
This doesn’t even require Dallas to pair Doncic with another star or two, but to simply replace a couple of the catch and shoot players they currently have with players that can create their own shot. Wood, like most stretch bigs, relies too much on being setup, and cannot be the second option when the clock winds down in a playoff game. With as much parity as there is in the NBA right now (meaning the West is as wide open as it has been), it would be in the Mavericks best interest to do what they must to get rid of Wood in hopes of bringing back a playmaking wing (like an O.G. Anunoby type) and, ideally, another guard to help take pressure off of their MVP favorite point guard.