Christian Wood rodethe bench, watching the Dallas Mavericks squander another double-digit lead. This time it came at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, who rallied from down 11 points in the fourth quarter to notch a 112-108 win.
Wood helped build the 11-point lead but subbed out with 7:28 remaining in the final frame and the Mavericks up 92-87. He never checked back in. After the game, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd explained his approach to managing Wood’s minutes.
“You look at just the depth that we have with all the bigs; we’re trying to get them in the game and see who has the hot hand,” Kidd said. “Right now, with Maxi back, that’s going to cut some of his minutes down, especially when we’re healthy. That’s just the way it is right now. It can change as we go forward.”
Kidd’s assertion that he was trying to ride the hot hand is disingenuous from an offensive perspective. Looking at the offensive production from all three of Dallas’ big men who played Saturday night — Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Wood — it’s abundantly clear who had the most effective scoring night.
Wood finished the game with 14 points on 4-8 shooting while going 6-6 from the line — he shot the most free throws on the team — in 15 minutes of action. Kleber scored four points on 1-3 shooting in 26 minutes. Powell also chipped in four points, going 1-2 from the field, in 19 minutes.
It is conceivable that Kidd’s “hot hand” comment was directed more toward the defensive end. While Wood has proven that he’s an efficient scorer when engaged, he’s far from a complete player at both ends. Yet down the stretch, the Mavericks remained a defensive sieve.
Powell replaced Wood in the fourth quarter before Kidd subbed him out in favor of Kleber a few minutes later. Despite the game of musical chairs, Dallas allowed six points in the restricted area after Wood checked out. Powell and Kleber each also committed a foul in the paint, leading to three Grizzlies points. Memphis outscored Dallas 25-16 after Kidd relegated Wood to the bench.
This isn’t a new trend from Kidd in regards to Wood. Instead, it’s a resurgence of his approach to the 6-foot-10 big man. Since the All-Star break, Wood has seen a downward shift in his minutes. Before fracturing his left thumb, Wood saw a string of 16 starts in a row while playing 33.4 minutes per game.
Since returning from injury, he hasn’t started. In his eight games post-All-Star break, he’s seen his minutes drop to 19.8 per game. Newly acquired wing Justin Holiday has played just nine fewer minutes than Wood since the break.
Kidd’s reluctance to play Wood is puzzling, given how productive he can be in situations and lineups that exploit his abilities. Matt Moore, who writes about the NBA for the Action Network, posted a particularly interesting tweet about the best four-man lineup in the NBA.
The best four-man lineup in the NBA with at least 100 minutes played this season is Luka-Josh Green-THJ-Christian Wood at +32 per 100.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 10, 2023
It's appeared in just 24 games.
It’s not just this lineup that is effective with Wood in it. Switching to five-man lineups, Wood is a part of the three best lineups that have played at least eight minutes since the All-Star break.
In 17 minutes, the lineup of Kyrie Irving, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Holiday, and Wood is a plus-63.2. Luka Doncic, Hardaway, Josh Green, Reggie Bullock, and Wood are a plus-30.4 in 11 minutes. In eight minutes, the Irving, Jaden Hardy, Hardaway, Davis Bertans and Wood lineup is a scorching plus-93.4.
Can’t get much more “hot hand” than these lineups. Of course, these are small sample sizes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re aberrations. These lineups are worth examining further, especially if some degree of their potency can be maintained.
Moreover, that Wood can be effective in the right situation should, at best, be a wake-up call for a coach who watches his team collapse at both ends of the floor more often than it should. At worst, it’s a damning condemnation of Kidd’s capabilities to put his players in positions to succeed.
For a team sitting at .500, fighting to hold onto a playoff spot, with 14 games left to play, it’s long past due for Kidd to ditch his derisive attitude toward Wood. A team can only go so far on hot hands and vibes. It’s time for Kidd to get serious, look at what works and what doesn’t, and start making decisions that result in winning basketball games.