Sunday, October 2, 2022

Mavericks star set to play new role next season

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The Dallas Mavericks headed into the summer hoping to build on their momentous 2021-22 season. Superstar Luka Doncic led the Mavs to an upset over the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round, sending Dallas to their first Western Conference Finals in a decade.

But it wasn’t long after the confetti disappeared that a serious problem started rearing its ugly heads. Jalen Brunson was an upcoming free agent and was lured to the Big Apple. Brunson was the Robin of Doncic’s Batman, and a capable one at that. When Doncic was injured last season, Brunson shouldered the burden, averaging 20.4 points and 7.5 assists according to StatMuse.

Flash forward to the end of summer. Brunson is gone after signing with the Knicks this summer. And in his place, the Mavericks signed. . . nobody. At least not a one-to-one replacement.

Instead, the Mavs added Christian Wood via trade and Javale McGee as free agency. Both are talented complements, but both are also centers. And while Wood has played strongly in the past, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, there appears to be only room for one big man in the wings. Wood, who has been a daily starter for the past two seasons, is heading for a new role next season.

Last season, Wood averaged a double-double against a young and developing Houston Rockets team and averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He’s not quite the offensive dynamo Mavs fans wanted to pair with Doncic, but he should soften the blow after losing Brunson.

But depending on how the Mavs stagger Doncic’s minutes, the Dallas superstar may not get as many chances as initially thought with his new teammate.

“The Mavs plan to use Wood as a sixth man – a role that may not be easy for him to accept as he enters a contract year,” MacMahon wrote on Sept. 20.

The report came amid ESPN rankings of Wood as the No. 92 player in the NBA heading into the new season. On the one hand, it’s a luxury when a top 100 player comes off a team’s bench. On the other hand, the Mavericks only have two others on ESPN’s Top 100 list: Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie.

So why get Wood off the bank? After all, he is able to play in the Fours for some time. Probably depends on experience. McGee is a veteran NBA mid-level vet, and a more traditional one at that. Ultimately, with Doncic capable of clearing the ground as well as anyone, McGee could be a better starting partner for Doncic than Wood.

Despite this, the starting XI remains riddled with holes, which is why Bleacher Report recently gave the starting five a tough label.

The Dallas Mavericks project plans to field a starting lineup with Doncic, Dinwiddie, McGee, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith. Aside from Doncic’s obvious brilliance, it’s a lackluster quintet.

But the decision to take Wood off the bench has Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz scratching his head.

“This seems like a bizarre choice, especially given that Dallas needs another big offensive threat alongside Dončić now that Jalen Brunson is gone. With Wood in the final year of his contract, he would almost certainly look elsewhere if the Mavericks didn’t give him one now,” Swartz wrote. “If Wood actually comes off the bench then that starting lineup seems very underwhelming.”

Could the Mavericks surprise people and hit the ground running? Without doubt. They proved their status as the ultimate sleepers last season following their Conference Finals run. But there’s also no question that the squad is weaker following Brunson’s departure, with no apparent replacement.

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