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'Huge Opportunity': Christian Wood Embraces Mavs Bench Role

Christian Wood will begin his Dallas Mavericks tenure in a bench role. It's something that he's going to embrace.

The first move the Dallas Mavericks made following their Western Conference Finals run was a trade with the Houston Rockets to acquire Christian Wood

Wood entered the NBA as an undrafted free agent ahead of the 2015-16 season. He spent numerous stints in the NBA as a power forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, Charlotte Hornets, and Milwaukee Bucks until showing major flashes of excellence with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018-19. 

In an eight-game stretch with the Pelicans, Wood averaged 16.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game. His production earned him a regular rotation role on the Detroit Pistons that offseason. 

During his Pistons stint, Wood played under current Mavs assistant coach Sean Sweeney and averaged 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. He began to step out and shoot more 3s and converted at a 38.6 percent clip. He ultimately opted to depart from the rebuilding organization in free agency. 

When Wood decided to sign with the Rockets in 2020, his decision was made with the intent of joining James Harden amid title contention efforts. Those plans unraveled quickly after Harden requested a trade. 

After 109 games played for the Rockets, Wood averaged 19.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He shot an impressive 50.7 percent form the floor and 38.4 percent from 3-point range during these two seasons. 

Wood was traded to the Mavs in the offseason in exchange for the No. 26 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Boban Marjanovic, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss and Sterling Brown. He is now on team No. 7 in his NBA career.

Christian Wood Embraces Winning Situation

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

A common theme in Wood's previous NBA stops: losing. 

Joining a Mavs team that is fresh off a Western Conference Finals and a 52-win season is a significant change for Wood, who has a 69-153 record and has never appeared in a playoff game in his NBA career.

"It's a huge opportunity for me, just to finally be in a winning organization," Wood told reporters at media day.

"If you look at my past career, I've been on a lot of losing teams, so I have a huge opportunity to prove myself and prove that I can do well on a winning team," Wood explained.

"You lose a certain amount of times, you start to get motivated to win," Wood said. "Even when I was with Houston, my main thing was to try to win as many games as possible. But things didn't turn out the way that I wanted it to with guys wanting trades out."

There is no denying Wood's talent. He's a skilled stretch-five that can attack out of isolation and the post to get a bucket. He's more than capable of spacing out and attacking off the catch in addition to being a lob threat on rim rolls. There has been questions about how the Mavs will utilize him to help maximize the team's success. 

Wood, along with JaVale McGee, were brought in by the Mavs to add size to their frontcourt rotation. With a playoff center rotation of Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber, they were undersized against centers like Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton, but also struggled on the boards against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 

"We played some pickup already and we can see that (Wood and McGee are) tall and know how to position themselves for rebounds," Kleber said. "It will things much easier for us."

Jason Kidd Confirms JaVale McGee Will Start

JaVale McGee, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns

At Mavs media day, Kidd confirmed that McGee would start at center while Wood will come off the bench to start the season. However, the lineup may change at a later time. 

"Right now, and I said it in the summer, that I will bring (Wood) off the bench and start JaVale and Spencer. That's the way we'll start as we go forward."

"Flexibility is something you need as a head coach. He could start at times if the matchup is something we want to look at. I talked about it last year," Kidd explained. "You're probably going to see different lineups out there, so we can get the answers to the test for when we make it to the playoffs, we have guys comfortable playing with one another."

One comment from Wood went viral, specifically about a reporter's question being the "first time hearing about" coming off the bench. He said the remark jokingly, and explained that he will be motivated in either unit, and what matters most is who closes games — not who starts. 

"This is my first time hearing about it," Wood said as a joke.

"I'm motivated either way, off the bench or starting. It's something I could figure out, I'm not really worried about who starts the game, I'm more concerned about who finishes the game.

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"If people were asking like 'how would he feel about coming off the bench?' I'm not too worried. It's something that most likely will happen in talks with extensions and talks with free agency, But during the season, it's not going to get me off my pivot." 

McGee was a member of three NBA championships, including the Los Angeles Lakers' run that featured Kidd, Sweeney, and Greg St. Jean on the coaching staff. His winning experience is valued and he does many of the little things the team feels are needed on both ends. 

Early Emphasis on Defensive Impact

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks

One of the main knocks about Wood's impact on the court throughout his career has been his lack of force as a rim protector. While he has the lateral quickness to excel guarding out in space, he tends to get pushed around at times when protecting the paint. It will be a point of emphasis for the Mavs to address it.

"I want C-Wood to be himself," Kidd said. "I'm not asking him to do anything that he hasn't done. He's been in this league. He understands how to score the ball. Team defense is something that we will help him with as we go along here. He's capable of doing it. We'll hold him accountable to that. Just being able to play his game. I don't need him to be a microwave, I need him to be C-Wood."

Wood. made it clear that he wants to show he can be relied on by the Mavs organization to provide leadership. He has been around the building very frequently since being traded to the team in June. 

"I've been here before for about three months now," Wood said. "I've been here before the young guys, the D League guys came in, just to try and show them that this is what I want to do. I want to be part of a winning team and I want to show them that I can do that. It's just about me being motivated and being early to everything. Just to show them what I can do."

Among the key ways that Wood has emphasized his growth on defense has been individual workouts with Sweeney. Given how much the Mavericks surprised many by commanding buy-in defensively from their players, this will be important to monitor with Wood during the season.

"I don't know if you guys know, but that guy has been killing me in the gym," Wood said jokingly.

"I've been doing one-on-one workouts with straight him, so I'm pretty much in the best shape of my life right now. So thank you Sean Sweeney."

The defensive concepts are different than what was utilized during the stint Wood and Sweeney shared with the Pistons organization. Those differences have been a point of emphasis in workouts.

"Not the same concepts. This team's concepts are completely different and he's the team's defensive guy. So that's literally how we start his workouts is with defense."

Chance to Play with Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors

The more consistently that Wood can get the job done defensively, the better his chances of eventually emerging as the starter become. The more he starts games, the more he gets to play with Luka Doncic — someone he feels will maximize his skill-set, like when he played with Harden. 

"I'm really excited. I don't compare Luka and James Harden together, but they have similar play styles together. I excelled when I played with a pass-first playmaking point guard. I think Luka is that and even better than he showed. I think he's a top-five player and me and him together should be fun."

During the seven games that Wood played with Harden, he averaged 23.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists. They were an incredible changing pick-and-roll tandem to contain due to Wood's versatility on the roll and pop. 

Wood will present Doncic with a screening threat that can hit contested motion shots on the pop in addition to rolling to the rim for a lob, with much in-between. He can get crafty playing off two feet in the paint when a roll faces pressure. Additionally, he can score in the post and attack a mismatch when a switch is made, both at a high level. 

For a player in a contract year, playing as much as possible alongside Doncic has to be an intriguing possibility. However, Wood has yet to discuss a contract extension and remains focused on the season. 

"I haven't really talked to anybody about any type of contract," Wood said. "That's something I'll think about later."

You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth.

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