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Mavs Jeopardizing Christian Wood Situation?

Christian Wood received a season-low 17 minutes against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday after scoring a season-high 28 points the game before. Are the Dallas Mavericks jeopardizing the situation ahead of his free agency?

The Dallas Mavericks have a problem on their hands.

Following their 98-97 loss to the Denver Nuggets, they are 9-7 through 16 games into the season. Dallas is starting games with their superstar, Luka Doncic, getting trapped on pick-and-rolls while their second-best player, Christian Wood, is still coming off the bench and rarely closing games.

Not only has Wood been coming off the bench, but his workload has also remained limited. He's averaging 24.6 minutes per game — the fewest he’s played since the 2018-19 season. He's closed two fourth quarters all season, with one of those games ending with him not playing at all in overtime.

For a team deprived of talented offensive players to pair with Doncic, who boasts the highest usage rate in the league, Wood has yet to be utilized as many had anticipated when the Mavs traded for him on draft night. It's a confusing approach to not fully utilize the team's second-best player, especially given the No. 26 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft was traded in the deal to acquire him.

Wood has been a productive contributor for the Mavs so far. Through 14 appearances, he's averaging 16.6 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 57.3 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range. He's had plenty of big stretches where he gets hot and gives the team a needed boost, too. 

The two-game mini-series against the Denver Nuggets was a microcosm for Wood's inconsistent involvement from the Mavs. He went from scoring a season-high 28 points in 26 minutes off the bench during their win on Friday to being limited to season-low 17 minutes and three shot attempts in Sunday's loss. 

After Friday's win over the Nuggets, Doncic highlighted Wood as being a "great player" and "great defensive player" in his post-game comments. The two have showcased strong chemistry and impact as a duo and Wood even entered Sunday's game with the most made field goals (26) on passes from Doncic of any Mavs player despite ranking sixth in minutes with him. 

"He's a great player," Doncic said of Wood. "He's a great defensive player. The chemistry is going to go up when we're on the court together."

In the same post-game press conference on Friday, Mavs coach Jason Kidd expressed belief that Wood is "comfortable" in his role and that he's done a "great job" on both ends of the floor so far this season.  

“I think he’s comfortable," Kidd said of Wood after Friday's win. "I think that you can see that he’s comfortable playing his role. He’s doing a great job for us on both ends, offense and defense. Just understanding that we’re trying to get the ball offensively because he is a talent. The nice part about that is he’s really unselfish and he’s looking to make the right play – and he’s doing that for a high level for us right now, and we need that.”

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The game immediately after those comments featured Wood receiving fewer than 20 minutes for the first time this season. He racked up five points on three shot attempts while recording seven rebounds and two assists. He was limited to just 1:51 of playing time in the fourth quarter. 

Wood stated after Sunday's game that he has "no clue" what second-half playing time plans are in store for him before the Mavs play games. 

"I would love to play more," Wood said after Sunday's game. "I’ve voiced that several times, but I just play my role.”

It's clear, there appears to be a disconnect in the situation. With the Rockets, Wood established himself as a starting talent that played over 31.4 minutes per night. Currently, despite less talented options ahead of him in the pecking order, he faces more questions than answers. In the final year of his contract, facing a reduced role could have an especially disadvantageous outcome. 

Wood is averaging 8.6 points in second halves alone, which trails only Luka Doncic among Mavs players. However, he's doing so while receiving just 12.3 minutes after halftime, which ranks seventh compared to the rest of the team. With how opposing teams get more aggressive getting out of their base defense, it's more important to utilize top-scoring threats after the break, not to utilize them less.

The Mavs need to figure it out soon. Again, they parted with a first-round pick to acquire him despite likely being without a first-round selection in 2023 due to the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Dallas isn't in a position to squander draft capital on one-year failed experiments.

Wood is set to reach unrestricted free agency in the upcoming offseason barring a contract extension agreement being reached later this season. If he 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. 

The Mavs return to action on Wednesday when they take on the Boston Celtics, beginning the first of a three-game road trip. 

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