Money aside, seeing how Christian Wood and Luka Dončić play together and interact on the court these last months should be enough reason to convince anybody that extending Wood is the right decision for the Dallas Mavericks.
The connection the two have on offense is remarkable, especially considering how little they’ve actually played together and how short they’ve known each other. Next to Dwight Powell, who has played with Luka since his first days in the NBA, Luka’s connection with Wood is probably the best we’ve seen with a big man in this league.
A highlight video on Luka & CWood’s best connections so far this season. Check it out MFFL’s!https://t.co/IDZ7VvIk8c— Panda Hank (@pandahank41) January 7, 2023
But there’s another aspect to this that deserves attention. We know that not all good players play well together or make each other better. We saw that with Kristaps Porzingis, who was traded to the Washington Wizards last year after 3 years in Dallas. Porzingis was supposed to come to Dallas to be the number two star next to Luka, but injuries, inconsistent play and a lack of chemistry with Luka prevented that from happening.
Porzingis wasn’t really happy in Dallas, the two of them never really played well consistently together and it seemed like Porzingis and Luka were just missing something. They weren’t unfriendly with each other, they just weren’t able to be what the other and the team needed.
I have been thinking about that since Kirk Henderson, our Editor here at Mavs Moneyball, mentioned it on a postgame podcast recently.
Earlier this month, there was a clip of Luka screaming at someone during a timeout going around on twitter, where Luka seemed extremely agitated, clearly frustrated with the situation and letting his anger out on Christian Wood, gesturing to him on the bench. Wood remained calm and collected, even looking the other way.
Luka was NOT happy after not getting the timeout he wanted pic.twitter.com/Z20oyYL99s— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 1, 2023
As much as many saw that as a painful sign that the Dallas Mavericks superstar is unhappy playing with the current roster, it was also a sign of something else.
During the post-game press conference Luka explained how he really appreciates a specific quality in Wood. “Sometimes it’s hard to be with me on the court probably. I just want to win. But he appreciates that, he never gets mad”.
Luka Doncic on relationship with Christian Wood: "He doesn't get mad at me when sometimes I yell at him, and that's what I appreciate. ... Sometimes it's hard to be with me on the court probably. I just want to win. He appreciates that, he never gets mad. ... It's working great." pic.twitter.com/uAOIy6vnJB— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) January 1, 2023
This is significant. Not only because Luka speaks positively about Wood to the media (he’s done that multiple times, praising both his offense and recently his defense), but because this kind of thing matters. It matters to Luka that Wood can handle that situation without taking offense and just carry on, and it matters to the team dynamic that Wood can be a lightning rod, when things get tense.
Luka said it himself, and if my memory serves me right, Porzingis has said something similar. It’s not always easy to play with Luka. Keeping that in mind, the fact that Wood seems to be able to deal with Luka’s occasional antics is probably a bigger deal than first thought.
To be able to shrug some of Luka’s behavior off and having enough confidence in yourself to absorb that kind of behavior is rare. It takes trust and a belief that the other person respects you, despite their current antics.
That’s important in basketball and it’s important when you play with a 23 year old generational talent, who wears his emotions on his sleeve and has a little more maturing to do when it comes to this specific issue.
This may be the best shot Luka will have for quite a while to play with another scorer, who not only shares a connection with him on the floor, but who also can carry the load of being a lightning rod and a steadying force when the going gets tough.