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Has Luka Doncic Found His Dance Partner?

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In some corners of the NBA, Christian Wood’s offseason purchase by the Dallas Mavericks was initially met with disbelief. Dallas’ cost to acquire such an intriguing talent – after two seasons in Houston where he averaged 19.1 points and 9.9 rebounds on 59.3 shooting percentage – was reasonable (four players without a rotation and a late first-round pick). , but skepticism about Wood’s fitness has dampened any worries about a team that just advanced to the conference finals, surrounding Luka Doncic with shooting and two-way versatility.

On the one hand: adding a big player with no playoff experience and little evidence of the ability to secure protection was an interesting decision. On the other hand, the Mavs have arguably created one of the most resourceful and intimidating pick-and-roll duos in all of basketball. Doncic had experienced, athletic and very large dance partners before. However, no one (including Kristaps Porzingis!) expands his palette like Wood.

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While acknowledging the defensive issues that kept Wood from shutting down games (he was on the bench until the last bell in all competitions except one this season) early returns along with Luka were explosive. Top 10 Dallas Attacks generates a staggering 120.4 points per 100 possessions when Wood and Luca share the floor, what 26th out of 455 duets who have played at least 150 minutes.

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Setting up as new teammates who make sense to cooperate directly was hard to ignore, even as the aforementioned defensive issues kept Wood from starting or shutting down games. According to Second Spectrum, 74 different tandems have participated in at least 75 pick-and-rolls this season. Doncic and Wood rank first in quantifying shot probability (in other words, they generate very good looks) and eighth in points for direct play. (It’s also a glimpse of what the Rockets might have had if James Harden hadn’t demanded a trade a couple of years ago, after Houston traded Wood in a last-ditch effort to appease his frustrated franchise player.)

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Luca doesn’t need the best ingredients to cook at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. But give him a nearly 7-foot player who can shoot 3s, drive in close quarters, intimidate smaller defenders, and split 4-on-3 situations, and the dish becomes exquisite peanut butter and jelly.

“It’s a little better than I expected,” Wood said earlier this month when asked about his partnership with Luca. “I think you could say that, especially when I come off the bench. That was great”. Overall, Wood has been the fifth most effective screener this season, having played at least 100 times, showing how his extra skill set has worked with Luka as well as Spencer Dinwiddie.

Doncic is happy. “[Christian] amazing player,” Doncic said. said earlier this season. “He’s showing what he’s capable of… and we just have to feed him more balls.”

When Wood sets up a screen for Doncic, the defense can inflict a number of insults on him. Sometimes these two turn reportage into a submission. Torture before death. Sometimes they hit fast. Slide, pass, dunk. Or switch, seal, soak. Or switch, step back, splash. “Luka really enjoys playing with C-Wood, and conversely, C-Wood loves playing with Luka,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “It’s still early, but we like the way they play. Both guys play very well with each other.”

Apart from the Bow, Wood’s touch can be used as an untapped threat rather than a material weapon, depending on how the opponent wants to protect them. “Some defenses like to blitz, some defenses like to switch, some defenses like to be in the drop – which I don’t think is a good idea – but we just mix it up,” says Wood.

He is right. The soft drop isn’t really an option against Wood because he can just pop out for 3 or attack an off-balance melee. Instead, the teams are forced to switch between themselves, thereby confusing themselves. “That’s what we want as a team,” says Wood. “It makes my job easier because when I’m rolling, if I keep rolling every time he eventually finds me, he’s pushing defense so hard.”

There are already dozens of plays this season where Wood’s confidence and seriousness underline Doncic’s brilliance when the opponent changes. Unlike other big players that Luca has played with, Wood is not the type to let his breath out when he catches a defensive pass. But when Luca gets the match he wants and then still lets Wood work against him own inconsistency, Mavs become terrifying.

Anything that reduces Doncic’s tension in the game and still causes him to fail is a huge win for Dallas. Wood’s ability to moonlight as Randy Moss doesn’t hurt:

Relationships are mutually beneficial. Wood eats for the same reasons anyone who has ever screened Luka has: life becomes less complicated when the offense is led by the game’s most advanced playmaker. Wood’s percentage shots taken at the rim are a whopping 22 percent higher with Luca on the court than when he sits.

Mavericks are incredibly hard to slow down when they are organized and taking up space around Wood’s dive. In this series of (increasingly difficult) one-sided moves against Portland, Damian Lillard, Nasir Little, and then Jerami Grant decide to stay home on the perimeter instead of marking Wood’s shot. It was unwise.

“[Luka] sees all the options, and options are options for him because he can find guys with the same size,” says Mavs center Dwight Powell, who has picked more picks for Doncic than any other teammate he has been since joining the NBA. “But also his scoring threat gives a big advantage to anyone who shields properly, simply because they are so worried about retreating. They are so worried about him walking slowly towards the basket creating fouls. So sometimes they forget about you.”

The teams didn’t bother to throw the ball when Wood put up a screen after seeing the Grizzlies set themselves on fire while trying the strategy.

“I had to take a short throw and then I had to play 2 on 1 from behind,” says Wood, explaining the match. “So it was good.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Josh Green are amazing complementary Luca figures, but the Mavs still need a second star in the end.

The tree is a dynamic exclamation point, but not the reliable throw-maker that Luca will (probably?) need to win all of this. But until they find him, Wood is a fun and effective tool that makes life a little easier for a Dallas MVP candidate. And they’re still learning how to make each other better, even though Wood is averaging almost eight minutes less than two years ago when he was the best player on a bad Houston team. With few opportunities to improve his appearance – pumping additional drafts is not a solution right now – the key to the Dallas season may be to maximize the number of minutes Doncic spends next to Wood, defensive errors and growth problems be damned.

“We still don’t really understand each other. It’s the start of the season now and we’re still a good pick-and-roll tandem,” says Wood, before being asked what he suitable as a trainer who has to slow down Luka-Wood’s pick-and-roll. “I couldn’t tell you,” he laughs. “I couldn’t tell you.


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