The Dallas Mavericks made it clear they wanted an upgrade at the center position at the start of this offseason. Given the Houston Rockets' rebuilding timeline, the Mavs got what they wanted in Christian Wood at a surprisingly cheap price.
Dallas traded Boban Marjanovic, Trey Burke, Sterling Brown, Marquese Chriss — all expiring contracts — and the No. 26 pick in the June 23 NBA Draft.
Wood, 26, experienced a breakout in his NBA career since signing with the Houston Rockets. Over his two seasons with the team, he's averaged a combined 19.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. He's shot 50.7 percent from the floor, 38.4 percent on 3s, and 62.6 percent on free throws.
Wood initially signed with Houston to compete alongside James Harden amid title contention hopes. Harden is long gone and the team is in the midst of a long-term rebuilding effort, which further fueled the speculation of him being a 'tough teammate' to have around over the years.
The Rockets even suspended Wood for one game. He failed to show up for daily COVID-19 testing, resulting in their shoot-around being delayed. Wood was benched by coach Stephen Silas for punishment. He decided not to check into their 133-113 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers when Silas called his number, which caused one of the team's young players to confront him.
What will made the Mavs trade for Wood is the talent and rare perimeter shooting ability he possesses for a big man. He's appeared in 109 games for the Rockets over the last two seasons and has shot 208-542 (38.4 percent) from deep.
Wood's spot-up shooting ability enables his team to go five out when they seek. He's capable as a motion shooter, which allows him to relocate to a spot behind the 3-point line after setting an off-ball screen, cutting through, shaking down in the corner as a drive develops, or spacing out after a rim roll.
New potential layers for the Mavericks' half-court with Wood could come from his vastly more capable of attacking off the catch than Maxi Kleber. Whether using a shot fake to throw off the close out or quickly going off the catch, he can take advantage of slower bigs. He is also savvy at using his size when attacking a smaller defender making the closeout by getting to open space.
Part of what makes Wood such an intriguing offensive player is his dynamic ability to attack a defense as a pick-and-pop threat. He converts the catch-and-shoot 3 at a very high clip, and is a legitimate shot creator and threat to attack the rim. He would make defenses pay for loading up on Doncic.
Whether out of a "Horns" set, double drag screen, or after setting a high ball screen, the defense is going to be made to pay if they deploy a traditional big man that plays in drop coverage. Even just not getting out tight on the closeout can be enough for him to make the defense pay.
Wood has an impressive ability to attack off the dribble as a pick-and-pop threat. He can make a defense that deploys drop coverage pay by using a shot fake or blow-by against the big making the close out. Against teams that switch, he can use his size to get by a smaller defender if he gets a touch out in space.
When the initial outcomes from a pick-and-pop do not create a clean outcome for Wood, he can create a jump shot off the dribble. While it's not a high-frequency outcome, he has shown to be able to shoot over the top in mid-range over a smaller defender or get to a step-back from deep against a slower big man.
It's valuable to have a pick-and-pop threat that brings size to the offense and is technically sound with attacking smaller defenders after a switch. Whether he has the opportunity to establish a deep seal on a small defender or attack on a quick post-up, Wood presents an offense with a multi-faceted threat.
The Warriors often neutralized the Mavericks' ball screening plays by switching everything, taking away simple advantages. The burden to make a play was often placed on Doncic, Brunson, or Dinwiddie since the rest of the unit was filled with role player talents. Wood would add another threat.
Wood is capable of attacking bigs from out in space to get to the rim, even quicker footed ones. He's also a threat to attack smaller defenders from the perimeter or near the nail area. He'd present another way of attacking the defense from different spots on the floor.
Wood is a legitimate shot creator out on the perimeter out of isolation, too. Whether he's deployed in an off-ball screening action before the catch, after a switch when setting a ball screen or just getting the ball out in space, he's a threat to make a play.
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In a potential sequence involving Wood setting a ball screen for Doncic, both would be capable of taking step-back 3s, attacking the rim from out in space, or posting up. They'd be an elite one-two punch at punishing smaller defenders in pick-and-switch sequences.
Wood presents a half-court offense with additional options that many big men simply are incapable of matching since he can shoot on the move and get to the rim. He can be deployed in off-ball screening actions like flare screens, pin downs, down screens, and corner pin-ins, to name a few.
At times, Wood is capable of using ball screens and handoffs as the guard not just as the big — creating plenty of challenging outcomes for the defense to have to solve. If the big man drops or the guard goes under, he can make them pay with a pull-up. Other times, he looks to attack the rim using his size.
A lot of finesse big man options tend to be limited at least to an extent when it comes to being an interior play finisher. Wood, who stands at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, has all of the tools to be an explosive rim roller and efficient relief options in the paint. With the playmaking talent the Mavericks have in their backcourt, Wood would be fully maximized.
In terms of Wood's defensive impact, there'd be a decline in foot speed from Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber. He tends to guard ball screens in drop coverage and shifty isolation threats can get by him after he makes a switch. Opposing teams that deploy a more physically imposing center often give Wood significant problems.
Relating to ball screen coverage, Wood is often playing in a deep drop with a frequent concession to the ball handler, allowing the guard to get to a pull-up. Physical lane penetration threats can play bully ball to finish at the rim despite Wood playing in a drop, even though that strategy is used to prevent such an outcome.
One of the worst parts about Wood's defensive impact is his tendency to short-change closeouts. There are times when he's not even attempting to pressure the shooter despite being within the vicinity to pressure the release. His next team would need to hold him accountable.
After switching against a ball screen, Wood's base strategy tends to be to sag off a bit to concede the pull-up or step-back jumper to prevent getting blown by or shifted out in space. He'll make an effort to get a hand up, but the isolation scorer knows he's going to get what he wants.
Against bigger perimeter players, Wood is not one to make the isolation scorer feel much resistance when they attack the rim for a finish. Well, as previously mentioned, even smaller guards that are physical can clear him out of their way deep on a drive with contact.
When Wood is engaged defensively, he can make some dynamic weak-side help rotations to block a shot at the rim. He's especially effective when the opposition deploys a non-shooting center that tends to fill the dunker spot, or just simply can't space out from three requiring the defense's respect.
There are instances when Wood actually was engaged defensively and made some key defensive plays. At times, he was handling a cross-match assignment out in space after a switch or containing an aggressive scoring effort in transition head-on. the main question becomes: How often will he be engaged defensively on a winning team?
Regardless, Wood figures to be an incredible option next to Doncic in the team's half-court offense. However, defense will be a thing to keep an eye on, given his limitations.
You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth
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