The Dallas Mavericks scored just 97 points on Sunday against the lowly Denver Nuggets defense, currently ranked No. 24 in the NBA. It led to their seventh loss of the season despite the absences of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. Of course, Dallas is no stranger to losing to losers. The Mavericks have already lost to the Thunder, Magic, Wizards and Rockets. Some of the easiest games on their schedule have been wasted in large part because they can’t score enough points.
To some extent, this outcome was predictable. The Mavericks have one elite ball-handler in Luka Doncic. Last season, they had a second good one in Jalen Brunson. This season, they do not. Sometimes Spencer Dinwiddie fills that role well enough. When he doesn’t, the offense stalls. But to some extent, the struggles are self-imposed. Offseason addition Christian Wood played just 17 minutes in the loss to Denver. He wasn’t especially happy about it.
“I would love to play more,” Wood said after the game, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “I’ve voiced that several times, but I just play my role.” Wood has not started a single game this season. He is averaging 24.6 minutes per game after averaging more than 30 in two seasons with the Rockets. The Mavericks acquired him to help their offense. He is one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll big men, capable of finishing lobs with thunderous dunks as easily as he can pop back behind the line and fire 3-pointers.
Even the numbers suggest he deserves more playing time. The Mavericks are winning Wood’s minutes by 9.1 points per 100 possessions. When he goes to the bench, that figure dips to 0.3 points. Most of that gap comes on offense. When Wood plays, the Mavericks score 116.5 points per 100 possessions. When he doesn’t, they scored 108.5. That is essentially the difference between the NBA’s No. 3 offense (Phoenix at 116.7 points per 100 possessions) and No. 25 (Detroit at 108.7).
So why isn’t Wood playing more? Defense is the simplest explanation. While Dallas has been better statistically on defense with Wood playing, the sample is too small at this stage to draw any meaningful conclusions. For most of his career he’s been a relatively poor defender. He’s too small to serve as much of a rim-deterrent at center, but not committed enough to the fundamentals of defense to survive at forward. He has the athleticism to play good defense, but it has never translated. Dallas takes defense seriously. The Mavericks rank fifth in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions (108.7). Jason Kidd is an old-school coach in that sense. He prefers to give minutes to players he can trust on that end of the floor.
But in doing so, he’s increasing Doncic’s already gargantuan offensive work load. The Mavericks simply aren’t scoring enough points to waste a scorer as gifted as Wood. Wood wants to play more, and Dallas should take him up on that offer.