Christian Wood is likely going to be the one true x-factor on this Dallas Mavericks squad. Say what you will about the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. or improvements from Josh Green, but it’s Wood who will raise the ceiling for Dallas. And smart people around the media see that fact too. That includes ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
Zach Lowe believes that “[Christian Wood] can average 20 points, win Sixth Man of the Year, and close a lot of games.” The question of whether or not to start Wood has been one of the most popular conversations regarding the Dallas Mavericks this offseason. Wood is the second most talented player on the team and lineups featuring Luka Doncic with Wood at center should be unstoppable offensively.
The problem is that the Mavericks apparently do not believe that Wood can hold up as a center defensively for a full season. That is why JaVale McGee was both signed and promised a starting role. If McGee is starting, the value of Wood is drastically decreased as like Kristaps Porzingis before him, he is at his best when being defended by centers.
Lowe mentions the potential lethality of a lineup featuring Doncic with Wood and Maxi Kleber spreading the floor at both big man positions. Those lineups should be among the Mavericks most successful as they take advantage of the versatility of Kleber. Kleber is a low usage offensive player, but he is perfect in a complimentary role in an offense centered around Doncic and Wood. Kleber provides floor spacing that means that both Doncic and Wood will be able to attack the rim with space that a lineup featuring McGee or Dwight Powell can never offer.
The decision to bring Wood off the bench shows that the Mavericks may actually view Kleber as a more important player to tether to Wood than Doncic. Wood is an extremely gifted offensive player which is why Lowe made the statements he did. That is true regardless of the situation he is placed in. He has also been a subpar defender throughout his career despite the tools to be effective. Since he needs more help on the defensive end of the court than the offensive end, it stands to reason that the Mavericks most versatile defender fits as a better partner than their best offensive player.
The Mavericks have had three Sixth Man of the Year award winners in their history. Roy Tarpley won the award in 1987-88, Antawn Jamison in 2003-04 and Jason Terry in 2008-09. Terry makes some sense as a comparison because he was always in the closing lineup in the mid 2000s and the Mavericks offense was built around him and Dirk Nowitzki running the pick and roll. It is possible the Mavericks are attempting to recreate that history but invert it, with the guard (Doncic) being the all universe player and the big(Wood) being the fantastic offensive compliment and pick and roll partner who is protected defensively by coming off the bench.
The case of Jamison is also applicable as a cautionary tale. Jamison was a very talented offensive forward with defensive questions. He came to Dallas, was extremely successful for one season and then requested a trade. The trade netted the Mavericks a lottery pick which they used on Devin Harris but if Wood is unhappy and decides to leave after this season, there is no guarantee the Mavericks will receive draft compensation due to his upcoming free agency.
It is important that the Mavericks keep Wood happy. This entire situation is going to be fun to watch, but it is a good sign that a basketball mind as smart as Lowe sees so much promise in this idea.