The Dallas Mavericks have publicly committed to starting Spencer Dinwiddie and JaVale McGee. Luka Doncic and Dorian Finney-Smith will also start barring a catastrophe. That leaves only one open starting position, but Dallas has two players who likely view themselves as starters in Christian Wood and Reggie Bullock.
Bullock was indispensable in the playoffs last season. He averaged 39.3 minutes per game and the Mavericks outscored their opponents by 2.5 points per game with him on the court. Plus/minus is an incredibly fickle stat, but it is easy to see why he was so important.
The Mavericks’ roster is largely comprised of players who excel at either offense or defense. Finney-Smith, Bullock and Maxi Kleber were the only members of last season’s rotation who provided value on both ends of the court.
Doncic is perhaps the best offensive player in the world, but teams make it a point to attack him defensively. McGee has the potential to offer value on both ends as a screen setter and rim-runner on offense and a rim protector and rebounder on defense. McGee does not offer the ability to play five-out, which has been the Mavericks most successful configuration for years. Dinwiddie was a revelation with the Mavericks, but he has never been known as an elite defender.
If the Mavericks start Wood in this configuration, Finney-Smith may be the only player who provides true value on both ends. Wood has interesting defensive tools with a 7’4” wingspan and incredible agility and versatility, but he has been bullied on that end for years. Our own Josh Bowe did a fantastic job breaking down Wood’s strengths and weaknesses in a post after the trade. It is hard to imagine that Jason Kidd, who was one of the greatest defensive guards in history as a player and who has prioritized defense as a coach, would be willing to play such a defensively challenged roster.
But Wood is also the most talented player—other than Doncic—that the Mavericks have had since he joined the team. There was a ton of excitement over the possibility of pairing Doncic and Wood in the pick and roll. The most efficient way of making that happen is to start them together. The problem is starting them alongside McGee, Dinwiddie, and Finney-Smith neuters the threat of that pick and roll.
Finney-Smith has made himself into a good shooter, but teams do not game plan around taking away his shot. In short, if Finney-Smith is the primary floor spacer around a pick and roll, that pick and roll is going to be cramped. This coupled with McGee’s utility as a rim runner would seem to lead to an offense centered around McGee screening for Doncic with Wood spacing the floor rather than setting screens. Wood is a very good shooter, but the strength of his offense is his versatility.
If the Mavericks relegate Wood to simply spacing the floor around a Doncic/McGee pick and roll, it is questionable that he would provide enough offensive value to negate his defensive short comings. That is why, if the plan is to use McGee as the primary screener, starting Bullock makes more sense.
Bullock is a high volume quick trigger shooter. He has taken over 10 three-point attempts per 100 possessions in three of the last four seasons, and he is a career 38.5 percent three point shooter. A combination of him and Finney-Smith as floor spacers with Dinwiddie as an option to attack a scattered defense off of a closeout follows the blue print of some very successful Mavericks offenses over the last few seasons.
Most importantly, it allows the Mavericks a chance to be competitive defensively. Starting Dinwiddie instead of Brunson is roughly a wash defensively, though there is some added upside due to Dinwiddie’s size and length. McGee is a serious upgrade over Powell defensively. This starting lineup gives the Mavericks the best blend of offense and defense possible without simply relying on Doncic to create literally every shot.
Doncic will still play plenty of minutes with Wood. Those minutes will come when Wood is joined by Kleber in the front court rather than McGee. Part of the value of Wood is in his ability to create his own shots rather than requiring Doncic to create all of them for him. However, he is at his best doing so against centers rather than power forwards.
Playing him with Kleber maximizes the pressure the Mavericks can put on opposing big men while minimizing Wood’s defensive short comings. Kleber is an incredibly versatile talent who can space the floor while protecting the rim and holding his own on the perimeter. Very few teams will be able to handle the Mavericks with both on the floor and even fewer bench units will be able to do so.
It may be tough to get Wood, who is the second most talented player on the team, to buy in to coming off the bench. But if the team has committed to starting McGee, it is the lineup that makes the most sense. The lineup configuration that starts is much less important than who finishes anyway, and Coach Kidd made it incredibly clear than he realizes the value of both Bullock and five out offenses based on the lineup decisions he made during the playoffs.