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The Christian Wood situation keeps getting messier

His performance in the fourth quarter against Indiana was disheartening

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When Nico Harrison traded a late first round pick and salary filler for Christian Wood this summer, most Maverick fans seemed to react with cautious optimism. Fresh off a run to the Western Conference Finals, Dallas was faced with a glaring hole at the center position. Outside of an overused Maxi Kleber, Dallas employed no playable playoff big men. Their interior defense and rebounding were badly exposed against the championship-tested Warriors. The hope was that Wood and JaVale McGee could combine to give the Mavericks a formidable interior presence.

Surrendering a first rounder hurt, but what were the odds that a player picked late in round one would be as impactful as Wood? After all, Wood is an incredibly talented player with a gift for scoring efficiently from all over the floor. There were real concerns about his defense and less than glowing locker room reputation, but I think most agreed that the risk was low enough to find out if things could work here.

Many were confused and agitated when Wood started the season as reserve. These complaints only intensified as Wood put up huge numbers in limited minutes early in the season, showcasing excellent chemistry with Luka Doncic as a pick-and-roll partner. To Wood’s credit, he said all the right things to the media when asked about his bench role. Of course he wanted to be a starter, but he was committed, first and foremost, to helping the team win. Jason Kidd publicly challenged Wood to be better on defense.

And again, to Wood’s credit, he responded. There was a stretch when Wood averaged over 2 blocks a game for a few weeks. He seemed to embrace the challenge of protecting the rim and Kidd rewarded him with increased minutes and a starting role. But an unfortunate thumb injury sustained on January 18th against Atalanta sidelined him for 3 weeks. Wood has not started a game since. And it appears that he is not pleased with this development.

It’s also clear that the Mavericks tried to trade Wood at the deadline; multiple reports indicated that he was being heavily shopped. There were no takers for a deal that made sense for Dallas. And Wood, who up to this point had done a great job of ignoring the outside noise, took to Twitter to dunk on those who thought he would be traded. It was an immature response, and his play post-deadline has slowly deteriorated, especially on the defensive end.

Last night’s fourth quarter performance felt like an inflection point for Wood. I already posted a Twitter thread detailing his awful play in the period, but I wanted to break it down here, as well.

The main source of frustration was that Wood set not one, not two, but THREE egregious moving screens. Here was the first one:

Again, he got away with this one (despite Rick Carlisle’s best efforts to point it out). So maybe, for some reason, he thinks that he can get away with it again.

This time, Wood gets called for the obvious foul. Setting screens in the NBA is a skill, but it isn’t this hard. Wood demonstrates no effort at all here. He isn’t interested in doing his job. In between the two plays above, the Mavericks gave up a basket in the paint, something they’ve been doing a lot of lately.

Maybe Wood was told to stay home on Smith here. But since Hardaway is getting targeted in a pick-and-roll, it would make sense for the anchor of the defense to slide over to help and let Kyire Irving rotate to a 28% three-point shooter in the corner. Following a stop on the next possession, Wood then demonstrates low BBIQ by taking an ill-advised three.

After slumping his shoulders and meandering back on defense, Jalen Smith promptly puts a woefully out-of-position Wood on a poster. It was at this point where I knew he was about to get subbed out. So before he departed, he had to leave us with one more atrocious moving screen.

Wood then walks directly toward the locker room. Apparently, he did return to the bench shortly after. Maybe he tweaked something. Maybe he had to go to the bathroom. But regardless, it doesn’t look great to have a stretch like this on the floor and respond in this manner. This whole sequence felt a bit like Rajon Rondo in the 2015 playoffs. I’m not saying that Christian Wood has quit on this team, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where he is mentally.

The Wood situation has reached a critical mass. Both things can be true: the coaching staff has not put him in the best position to succeed, while Wood has not shown enough defensive buy-in to earn blind trust. I would be shocked if Wood was a Maverick next season. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if he was dismissed by the team at some point in the near future. The vibes are not good. And if Wood doesn’t contribute toward a meaningful playoff run, then that’s just another first round pick that Dallas tossed aside for nothing.