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Mavs' Christian Wood Forming Intriguing Duo With Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic and Christian Wood have shown no shortage of intriguing flashes as the Dallas Mavericks' latest duo.

The Dallas Mavericks sent away the No. 26 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and four filler contracts to the Houston Rockets to acquire Christian Wood in the offseason. Outsiders at the time thought he'd potentially fill the role of former Mavs star Kristaps Porzingis at a lower cost.

Wood has been brought off the bench in all 13 of his performances this season and is coming off a season-high 28-point performance against the Denver Nuggets. He's averaging 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per game while filling a sixth-man role. He's been the Mavs' second-best offensive player while thriving when playing with Luka Doncic. When the two have shared the floor, the Mavs have produced a 123.1 offensive rating and 109.9 defensive rating, resulting in a 13.2 net rating. 

"I think he's comfortable. I think that you can see that he's comfortable playing his role," Mavs coach Jason Kidd said of Wood. "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."

There isn't a more effective offensive talent for Doncic to play with on the Mavs. Wood accounts for the most made field goals (26) after receiving a pass from Doncic while shooting 26-42 (61.9 percent) from the floor, specifically being 21-30 (70.0 percent) on 2s and 5-12 (41.7 percent) on 3s. The duo is achieving these results despite playing 186 minutes together, which ranks sixth among two-man combos with Doncic. 

"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."

There are times when Maxi Kleber will catch the ball in the paint without ever once even looking at the rim despite being right by the rim, automatically looking to make a pass to the corner — noticeably causing frustration for Doncic. The other options — Dwight Powell and JaVale McGee — are unable to space the floor. None are threats to do much attacking against switches on their own. The only frontcourt talent that checks all of the necessary boxes is Wood. 

“Luka really enjoys playing with C-Wood, and vice versa, C-Wood enjoys playing with Luka,” Mavs head coach Jason Kidd said. “It’s early, but we like the way they’re playing. Both guys play off of each other extremely well.”

When Doncic draws two defenders early, or at least has the brunt of the defense's attention, it's vital that he has a relief option on the roll that is a threat to execute on a finish in the paint. Whether the play leads to an open finish after Doncic makes the pass or there is the need to play through contact, Wood has delivered in that regard. 

If Doncic faces a set of circumstances in pick-and-roll play that enable him to draw two defenders deep on a drive, he's able to utilize Wood's shooting ability as a relief option to hit him on the pop. Last season, there was a dependence on Kleber to be the main pick-and-pop threat after Porzingis was traded midseason. Wood offers far more dynamic results. 

There is no shortage of options in the Mavs' ball screen offense when the opposition is deploying a traditional big man. There hasn't been an extensive amount of opportunities to do so, but Dallas has already shown an ability to punish the defense for switching with their big man by deploying Stack pick-and-roll and utilizing Wood on the roll. It's a bonus if the defense has an undersized liability like Ja Morant. 

Perhaps most important of all, Doncic can trust Wood to make a play when he receives the ball in the post after a switch occurs. It doesn't have to be just after a soft switch when the two are running a pick-and-roll together. Wood can receive on off-ball screen leading to a switch and Doncic can dump it down to him and watch him go to work. With teams often favoring to switch against Doncic, punishing them is essential. 

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Wood has been quite effective as a post scorer this season. On these particular plays, he's scored 28 points and is shooting 12-15 (80.0 percent) while going 4-4 (100.0 percent) on the free throws he's generated. When factoring in his five turnovers in this area, he's producing 1.094 points per possession, which trails only Brook Lopez (1.256 PPP), Doncic (1.242 PPP), and Kristaps Porzingis (1.125 PPP) among 23 players with least 30 post-up possessions this season. 

“[Christian] is an amazing player,” Doncic said. “He shows what he can do … and we just gotta feed him the ball more.”

With the shooting ability that Wood brings to the table, he presents a more potent catch-and-shoot threat when spacing the floor. He's shooting an incredible 16-31 (51.6 percent) on catch-and-shoot 3s this season, which is the most efficient among all Mavs players with some of the higher volume options currently working through shooting slumps. Given how incredible Doncic's playmaking is, it's important to take advantage.

With the Mavs essentially only having Kleber as a stretch-five option outside of Wood, it's important to consider the limitations provided. Kleber tends to not be aggressive looking to let it fly when he faces a contest. Wood doesn't tend to have that hesitation and is successful as a tough shot maker. 

With how teams seem to think that trying to blitz Doncic aggressively more often is the next best strategy to try, it's important to have a threat in short-roll situations. If the big deployed on the short-roll isn't much of a shooter on the catch or downhill threat, there tends to be an over reliance on catch-and-shoot 3s from the 3-and-D wings spacing on the weak-side. However, if there's a threat that commands attention from the defense, those looks can be much cleaner due to a pre-rotation. Wood has shown to be capable of doing that. 

There are general dynamic qualities that Wood presents that Doncic does not tend to get from his other frontcourt teammates. How many of the Mavs' frontcourt players can be trusted to get the ball in transition to make a positive play? Wood certainly meets the mark. 

As Doncic and Wood spend more time on the court together, there will be many options for them to add to their half-court attack. The early returns have already been impressive with opposing teams having to deal with two matchup nightmares with no shortage of ways to counter their strategies. 

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