The 2022-23 NBA season has been the best season that I can remember. Teams such as the Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers are shocking us with how well they’ve played thus far and teams like the Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors, and Minnesota Timberwolves have surprised with how pitiful they’ve looked lately. However, the player performances is the highlight of this season so far. There’s been 14 games where a player has scored at least 50 points including Donovan Mitchell where he scored 71 points which has only happened 11 other times in the history of the NBA and the 71 came so gracefully and within the offense. And of course, Luka Doncic’s historic performance of 60 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists. In addition, the value of the role player has significantly increased this season with Kevin Huerter being a key reason for the Kings success, Brogdon being an extremely valuable 6th man for the Celtics, Aaron Gordon playing his role so perfectly for Denver that he may very well be an all-start his season, and the Mavericks, well their entire roster.
While Luka Doncic is in a four-man race for the MVP this season (Battling Jokic, Tatum, and Giannis), he is certainly not doing it by himself this year as many of us expected. Dallas fans were heartbroken this summer when Jalen Brunson decided to pack up and showcase his talents in Madison Square Garden over the next four years. Brunson played a major role for Dallas in their Western Conference Finals run, being Luka’s right hand man and relieving some of the pressure off of Luka. While some questioned Brunson’s $104 million dollar contract, he’s certainly proving his worth in New York where he has been a great leader, averaging over 20 points per game and 6.5 assists where they look to be heading to the playoffs. Brunson’s performance has frustrated Mav fans that they weren’t able to resign him. However, things are looking up for Dallas with some of their role players playing better than ever, and of course Luka playing as if he’s fed up with all of it.
The KP Trade
Before we dissect this Dallas roster, we have to travel to when Dallas made to what seemed to be an extremely promising trade for Dallas that it ended up severely disappointing Mavs fans due to injuries, salary cap hell, and just bad basketball at times. On January 31st, 2019, The New York Knicks sent Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee to the Mavericks for DeAndre Jordan (A disaster), Wesley Matthews (disappointing), Dennis Smith Jr. (Regressed significantly after his rookie year), 2021 first round pick (Keon Johnson, eventually traded), 2021 first round pick (top 10 protected). While the Mavs appeared to obviously win this trade, it was great for New York too. They got rid of Porzingis who was just using up cap space, missing game-after-game due to injury and absolutely hated being on the Knicks. The Mavs acquired Kristaps in hopes he could be healthy and be best friends with Luka and they could lead the franchise to their second championship ever. However, long story short, Porzingis continued to struggle with injury and did not become best friends with one another. In fact, they appeared to hate playing with each other. On the other hand, Hardaway Jr. mastered his role earning him a four-year, $75-million-dollar contract to play alongside Doncic and shoot the hell out of the ball whenever Luka gets tired of dribbling. The Porzingis trade ultimately lead to two first-round knockouts leaving many Dallas fans hopeless due to the fact that Porzingis appeared to be untradable, Hardaway eventually suffered a season-ending injury decreasing his trade vaule, and they had no other tradable pieces as it seemed. That leads us to one of the more confusing trades, if not the most head scratching trade of the 2022 season.
The KP Trade Part 2
After the Mavericks blew it with re-signing Brunson to an extension in the offseason, his play made him a far more valuable asset leading the Mavs front office in fear that they would lose him to, well, the Knicks. But that never happens right? No one goes to the Knicks especially when you’re playing with a generational talent in Luka Doncic. The Knicks decided to take action early and hired his dad as an assistant coach. His dad. They began clearing cap space throughout the season in preparation to land Brunson to whatever amount of money he wanted. The Dallas Mavericks took notice and decided to prepare just in case they were to lose their borderline all-star and vital player. However, the action they made confused a lot of basketball including myself.
On February 10, 2020, The Mavericks sent Kristaps Porzingis with a second-round pick in his pocket as a little snack for the Washington Wizards to acquire Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. This trade appeared to be one of the most even trades I’ve ever seen because both appeared to be a detriment for both clubs. The Mavericks trade a big, horrible contract, for two more horrible contracts? Dinwiddie had come off an ACL injury and never looked the same. Bertans, while at one time appeared to be one of the deadliest shooters in the league, he was now considered as having one of the worst contracts with an annual salary of $16 million. While Mavs fans were hoping to obtain cap space with getting rid of Porzingis, they instead really just evened out. They were still in cap hell. They had no trade pieces. No money to sign any additional big assets in the offseason and looked stuck. As they had been for over a decade.
Throughout the Mavs playoff run, Brunson began to play better than ever securing his worth at $100 million dollars, Dorian Finney-Smith was an extremely beneficial role player who rightfully earned himself a payday, Dinwiddie got better and better, Bullocks was a solid 3-and-D player, Dwight Powell sucked, Bertans still unplayable, and Luka was still a basketball God. But what’s next? How do you get better? Especially if you lose Brunson? If Brunson leaves, you have no money to sign anyone and it looks that you have no pieces to trade for anyone that could help this team not only arrive to the conference finals, but bring home a championship.
The Bad Attitude Trade
After losing Brunson, the Mavericks seemed hopeless. They were all the way back to square one. Nico Harrison knew he had to pull something out of thin air. He did just that. On June 19, 2022, the Dallas Mavericks traded Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, and Boban Marjanovic (four nobody’s; no offense Boban) to the Houston Rockets for Christian Wood who was notorious for being a bad teammate, flat out leaving during a game, having a horrible attitude, being good sometimes, and giving no effort at all the other times. However, this was a win for Dallas. Whatever anyone said about Wood, he had promising talent and attributes that could fit around Luka and co. perfectly. But only if he tried. Only if he actually played defense. Only if he bought into Luka’s dominant offense. Only if Jason Kidd would buy into Christian Wood.
Kidd being Kidd
Before the 2023 season during media day, Kidd announced that Wood would be coming off the bench which caught not only the fans surprised, but Wood as well. He started the year not starting, and not finishing games. Instead, it was Dwight Powell. Which is really just flat out sad. On a brighter note however, Wood looked incredible alongside Luka when Kidd actually played him. Coming off the bench before starting in the 26th game of the season, Wood averaged 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, on an efficient 55% FG, and 40% from 3 at 3.7 attempts per game. This is a testament to buying in to the Mavericks. He bought into Luka. He bought into Kidd. He bought into himself. He finally bought into basketball
Eventually, Wood cut out whatever mind games he was playing with Wood and has started him over the past nine games, and he’s looked fantastic. Upping his averages to 19.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, while shooting 40% from 3 at a high volume of seven attempts per game. In addition, Wood has played defense which is vocal point of the Mavs success. Wood has averaged 2.8 blocks per game which is a huge jump from his career average of 0.9! In addition, the NBA’s top 3 most efficient pick-and-roll duos are
- Doncic and Wood
- Dinwiddie and Wood
- Doncic and Powell
That’s out of the entire NBA. That leads us the final piece of this conversation
Doncic and co.
When you go back and look at the history of winners and their superstars, they tend to have all-star caliber players alongside them. Who didn’t? The 2011 Mavs. They had the Dirk and co. system and shocked the world beating the Miami Heat in the Finals. Dallas is running it back with a similar concept by surround Doncic with a roster of role players in Wood, Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, Bullock, Hardaway Jr., Powell, Kleber, etc. All of the players have not only bought into their role, but seem to enjoy it. I mean, they’re playing with a future hall of famer who draws so much attention where all you have to do is move around the arc and you’ll be able to possible average double-digits as long as you knock down the shots.
Dinwiddie has looked incredible as the second-third guy for the Mavs averaging 16 points and 5 shooting over 40% from 3 which is a major win for Dallas with Brunson being gone. Finney-Smith has looked just as good when healthy by guarding the opposing teams best forward and knocking down shot after shot. Bullock had a very slow start and while he still hasn’t looked great, he’s slowing hitting more shots which is a plus. Wood has obviously been awesome and a borderline all-star. Josh Green, when healthy, has been able to play valuable minutes by hustling harder than anyone else on the court. Hardaway Jr being back has been a plus for the mavs averaging about 14 a game shooting at 36% from 3. Kemba Walkers looks as if he can be a solid backup behind Luka. Dwight Powell is still just a roll guy with big shoulders that complains about getting touched all the time and JaVale McGee has been a tragedy.
Overall, the role players look to not only celebrating Luka’s success, but they’ve also been a huge factor in this historic season and only continuing to get better. During the first quarter of the season, the Mavs were one of my five most frustrating teams to watch along with the Atlanta Hawks, Timberwolves, Bulls, Rockets, and Hornets (Lakers are obviously really bad but it’s comical so they’re near the most fun teams to watch). However, as of late, it’s hard for me to miss any Maverick games for multiple reasons.
- Doncic could make history at any moment
- Doncic and Wood are incredibly fun to watch together
- They shoot the hell out of the ball
That being said, they can still be frustrating to watch when Luka is having a rough night, strictly because there’s so much hero ball being played, but when he’s on, he’s a must-watch superstar.
While the Mavs appeared hopeless when Brunson left, the West seems to be wide open with the Suns having a down year (Most of that due to Booker being out), Warriors having a rough start, the Kings will be the Kings at some point, the Pelicans can’t stay healthy, and the rest of the “contenders” the Mavs could easily go to toe-to-toe with as long as Luka is still on the basketball court.
While Christian Wood isn’t your traditional answer to a championship team, maybe the traditional answer has evolved just as the NBA continues to evolve over the years.
Submitted by: Grayson McClure