Christian Wood went from scoring a season-high 28 points against the Denver Nuggets on Friday to receiving a season-low 17 minutes against them just a few days later. Wood's playing time in the second half of games has been inconsistent throughout the early part of the Dallas Mavericks' season, even with Maxi Kleber sidelined as of late.
The lack of involvement for Wood in second halves, particularly in clutch-time, became a storyline as early as his Mavs debut. He scored 16 consecutive points late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter of the team's season opening loss against the Phoenix Suns, but he was pulled with around six minutes left in the game.
“I’m just happy to be a part of this team," Wood said of being pulled after his late scoring tear against the Suns. "Late in games, it’s just a trust thing. I have to build the trust with this team. I’m on a new team. Once I do that, I think we’ll be good.”
When the Mavs had a historic meltdown loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder that featured losing despite holding a 16-point lead with just over four minutes remaining in regulation. Dallas ultimately lost 117-111 in overtime and sat Wood for all of overtime.
“We left C Wood out there with that group and it didn’t go well on either end,” Kidd said of closing regulation with Wood on the court.
Things have not improved. Wood was pulled from the lineup at the 10:09 mark of the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and did not play for the remainder of the game. He logged a total of 1:51 of action in the period, which was by far the fewest of the 10 players that saw the floor within the period. Next fewest was JaVale McGee and Tim Hardaway Jr. with 4:52 of time on the court.
“I feel like I came out a little bit earlier in the fourth quarter today,” Wood said. “I usually come out five or six minutes into the fourth, but today it was a little bit early; but there was no reason told to me why that would happen.”
After Sunday's game, Wood was asked in the locker room if he would clarity from the team about his playing time. He remains adamant that he's focused on playing his role.
“I mean, I would like some, for sure,” Wood said of his playing time. “Like, I would love to play more. I’ve voiced that several times, but I just play my role.”
When asked by DallasBasketball.com after Monday's practice about Wood's playing time in second halves, Kidd explained that the team has a "roster full of bigs" and that you have to "earn your minutes." Wood has only closed the fourth quarter in two games, but didn't play in overtime that followed one of those final periods.
"I think for C-Wood, in the first game against Denver, he did everything well," Kidd said. "In that first half, we look at Josh (Green) and Davis (Bertans), it gives us a spark. Now it becomes, we were sluggish. We held Luka out for a minute there in the fourth to let that group run.
“It’s a matter of who’s going well. There’s no guarantee. You earn your minutes. Every game is different. This isn’t CYO, where you are allowed to play because of whatever reason. This is a team and Davis and JaVale and Green did a great job for their teammates to give them a chance to win.
"Minute wise, you look at the roster. The roster is heavy. We have a lot of bigs. The beauty of this is Maxi is out. When Maxi is back, someone has to be unselfish. It's not about minutes or scoring, it's about winning."
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On the latest edition of the Mavs Step Back Podcast, hosts Dalton Trigg and Drew Johnson talk about the Dallas Mavericks getting off to a slow start for the third consecutive year despite Luka Doncic being in MVP form early on. From there, they break down the Kemba Walker signing and why Christian Wood must start sooner than later.
“And so for C-Wood, his minutes will go up. This is just the start of the journey; we’re 16 games into this. I see his minutes going up, but we do have a roster of bigs.”
The facts don't add up when saying that Wood didn't earn his minutes compared to someone like Hardaway or Bullock. Neither player has managed to shoot the ball well this season. Meanwhile, Wood is averaging 16.6 points and 7.5 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.
For Bullock, his low efficiency shooting is happening despite receiving some of the easiest looks in the NBA. Will that improve? Yes, of course. But, it's challenging to overcome poor shooting from such a limited offensive player while the annual waiting game occurs. Meanwhile, Hardaway is pulling up for tough shots often and isn't converting at an efficient clip this season and is often being hunted on defense.
It's difficult to talk about "earning" things with the center position when JaVale McGee was promised the role in the summer. McGee has played poorly on both ends after being perceived as an answer to the team's rim protection needs. Instead, he's been a liability.
Powell is also receiving minutes over Wood at times despite not being perceived as impactful enough to earn a spot in the rotation to start the season after playing a consistent role in their Western Conference Finals run. Powell was important to their postseason success with his quickness giving the defense the ability to play close to the level on ball screens, but again, the team felt the need to acquire two centers this offseason.
With how teams are getting more aggressive with trapping Luka Doncic in ball screen coverage earlier in games, the Mavs are forced to have his supporting cast step up and make plays more. Most of the team, those plays lead to struggling spot-up shooters having to make an open shot. Wood is the only big that can offer a different way to attack the defense.
The Mavs' ceiling is significantly impacted this season if they do not get on the same page with Wood. He's the second-best offensive talent on the team and is the only player that can seamlessly be involved in the two-man game frequently with Doncic. He's also the only answer to attack the end of the switch with his low-post scoring ability while also being a threat to space out from the 3-point line to shoot or drive off-the-catch.
Wood is set to reach unrestricted free agency in the upcoming offseason barring a contract extension agreement being reached later this season.
If Wood chooses to test the market, the big man could decide to sign elsewhere as Jalen Brunson did when he committed to join the New York Knicks on a four-year, $104 million contract after the Mavs' run to the Western Conference Finals.
Like Jerami Grant with the Portland Trail Blazers, Wood will become eligible for a contract extension beginning on Dec. 24, which will mark six months since the draft night trade was finalized. The maximum the Mavs can offer is a four-year deal worth $77 million.
When considering probable market value, Wood should command greater offers than what Dallas is allowed to offer when he reaches free agency — making it not worthwhile to get an extension done as opposed to hitting the open market.