Dallas finished 2-2 this past week with two division wins against the Rockets and Pelicans and two unsurprising losses against Boston and Oklahoma City. The Mavericks currently reside comfortably in fourth in the West, with a game and a half of cushion on either side. Kemba Walker was waived and Luka Doncic won player of the month for December.
Team grade: B
This week went pretty much as expected, which is a good thing for the Mavericks this year. After losing to the Rockets earlier this season, as well as the Pelicans without some of their best players, beating both of those teams is a step in the right direction. Games against the worst team in your conference and the third best team without four starters are supposed to be wins, and that Dallas won them is a sight for sore eyes.
Losing to Boston is nothing to be upset about, they are the most well-rounded team in the league. And remember, Dallas has been playing without three key rotation pieces, who anchor the defense. The loss to the Thunder is what you want to make of it; without Doncic it’s hard to have any judgment about the team other than the roster is in need of upgrades, which we already knew.
The turnaround this season has been a product of the Mavericks starting to win games they should. Before December 21st, they were 5-8 against teams with a .500 or worse record at the time they played them. Since then, they are 5-1. Home court advantage will matter a lot for this team in the playoffs, and with the West as mediocre (or as strong, depending on how you look at it) as it has ever been, winning these games has given Dallas the cushion they need to stay in the top four while their guys are out.
Straight A’s: Christian Wood
Christian Wood has earned his A’s early and often this season. There are three players this season averaging 18 points, eight rebounds, and one block on 50 percent shooting: Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, and Christian Wood. To boot, he has been Dallas’ most consistent shooter, at nearly 40 percent from deep on almost five attempts. If he’s not giving you 21 points and five blocks against Houston, then he’s grabbing 12 boards against the Celtics. Even more, he’s proving he can do it all with 27 points and 17 rebounds against the Thunder. Wood is earning every cent of his extension, but hopefully, he isn’t earning more.
Wood is playing very well, at All-Star level, in fact, but there is a kicker. I wrote a piece a little while back about not pairing Luka Doncic with a stretch big anymore. Christian Wood’s extension can save the Mavericks from doing that. Dallas needs another playmaking wing next to Doncic and if Wood signs the extension, he will be making around 17 million dollars a year. That will improve the likeliness that Dallas could sign someone with a larger salary to be the number two, and have Wood be (maybe) the best third option in the league. If Wood does not sign the extension, or Dallas does not offer it, and they then sign him to a larger deal in the off-season, it will be a bigger mistake than Kristaps Porzingis.
The pairing will not work in the long run, and Dallas will be tied up with another impossible contract. If a stretch big is the second highest paid player on a Doncic team, success will perpetually be over the horizon. It is not that Doncic doesn’t need a stretch big, it is simply that he cannot be Doncic’s second fiddle. Christian Wood is playing really well, but for him and the Mavericks to win like they want to, it is in everyone’s best interest for him to sign the extension.
Extra credit: Jaden Hardy
This week has taught me two things. Number one, Luka Doncic should win MVP just based on who he has had to play with the last few weeks. Number two, if Frank Ntilikina or Mckinley Wright are going to get minutes when the team gets healthy, it should be Jaden Hardy instead.
You can look at the turnovers, or maybe the lack of defensive cohesiveness, or even the possibility of him losing out on valuable reps in the G-League as reasons to not play him in a smaller backup role. To those I say, be gone with the wind. Hardy can contribute right now, albeit in a limited capacity. He’s explosive, has turned into an excellent finisher, and has a quick and versatile release on his jump shot. He can give the Mavericks bursts of offense that they need, as he did against Boston and New Orleans.
Ntilikina’s defense is valuable, but the Mavericks need creation. Whatever Ntilikina adds on defense he gives right back and then some on offense. Wright has more guard skills than probably both of them, but he just has not played up to snuff offensively either. Defense from the third string guard should not be a factor, especially when Dallas is at full strength, and for that reason I say go all in on getting Hardy NBA experience when they can. He has the tools to be a Jordan Clarkson type, and can provide Dallas with a spark right now.