Something is off. One of the best spot up jump shooters in the NBA, Wesley Matthews, has been missing the mark this season. While the Dallas Mavericks have been exceeding everyone’s mediocre expectations, with an 11-8 start, Matthews’ offense has been a disappointment so far.
When Matthews left Portland for Dallas after five years as the Blazers starting shooting guard, the thought was that Rick Carlisle’s offensive scheme was the perfect place for Matthews to continue his long-range barrage. While his perimeter defense was something the Mavericks had been craving, Matthews’ ability to stretch the floor was the real reason Dallas is paying him $70 million over the next four seasons. They believed, along with Chandler Parsons, they had the perfect weapons to help transition into the post-Nowitzki era in North Texas.
During his run with the Blazers, Matthews torched the nets as he averaged 15.4 points per game on 39.5 percent from three on nearly six attempts per game. His overall offense game, with 44 percent shooting from the floor and an 114 Offensive Rating, was humming along in Portland. So far this year, however, the 29-year-old has not found his rhythm as he is shooting only 35.4 percent from the field and 32.1 percent from behind the arc through 17 games.
Given the cruel end to his Portland career, perhaps we are expecting too much from Matthews this early in the season?
After suffering a devastating Achille’s tear in March, the hope was Matthews would be ready to play at the beginning of December. That would have given him over nine months of rehab. With the typical recovery from this type of injury being 6-9 months, Matthews and the Mavs would be taking the conservative route. To the surprise of everyone, after playing limited minutes in the final preseason game, the 29-year-old guard was in the Mavericks starting lineup on October 28 just seven-plus months into the recovery period.
Despite being on the court for opening night, Matthews was facing limited minutes early on. With the Mavericks only playing him 25 minutes per game and sitting him out the second half of back-to-backs, Matthews’ rhythm was apparently disrupted the first two weeks of this year as he scored only 8.5 points per game. With minute restrictions in place, integrating into a new offense, as well as getting back into playing shape, it has been slow going for the Mavericks’ prized offseason signing so far.
Over the past week, it appears the restrictions have lifted, or at least relaxed, as Matthews has averaged 35.1 minutes over the past four games. He was even permitted to play in back-to-back contests earlier this week versus Sacramento and Portland. Against his former mates in Oregon, Matthews logged a season-high 40 plus minutes.
Despite the return to standard playing time, Matthews has still struggled as he is hitting only 29 percent from three on 7.8 attempts per game over the past four contests. With Matthews’ 18 point performance in his Portland homecoming, the shooting guard as shown signs of progress so far. However, there remains plenty of concern that the guard will continue to be off the mark this season.
As we discussed here, the performance history of players returning from Achilles surgery is not good news for Matthews. Most recently, Kobe Bryant came back from an Achilles tear in 2013 to post, at that point, career worst shooting numbers in 2014-15. As we all know, Bryant at age 36, was well beyond his prime and is not the ideal example for Matthews. The best player for comparison’s sake would be LaPhonso Ellis.
During the 1996-97 season, a 26-year-old Ellis was a top 10 scorer in the NBA as he put up 21.9 points per game for the Denver Nuggets. The 6’8″ small forward was shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from three. Late in the season, just like Matthews, Ellis suffered an Achilles tendon tear, ending his season. After surgery and a seven-month rehab period, Ellis returned to the court in Denver the following season.
After playing over 36 minutes per game before the injury, Ellis saw decreased minutes in 1997-98, 33.9 per game. The forward also saw his shooting numbers take a dive as well. Shooting 40.7 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from three, Ellis’ per 36 scoring average dropped from 21.6 points in 1997-98 to 15.1 post-Achilles surgery.
Just like Matthews, Ellis also saw reduced minutes early on in the 1997-98 season. For the first 20 games, Ellis played less than 30 minutes per game. During that stretch, he posted horrific shooting numbers with 35.8 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three. On a positive note, over the final month of the season Ellis did seem to regain his form as he made over 45 percent of his shots dropping nearly 17 points per game.
We can pin the blame of early season struggles on dead legs or lack of shooting rhythm, but just as the case with all other Achilles tear sufferers it will take time for Matthews to return to success. To his credit, while he has struggled offensively Matthews has brought a new intensity on defense, where is presence has helped Dallas rank 12th in Defensive Rating so far this season.
Just like with Ellis, Matthews’ shot may be a work in progress the entire season. While his game may not fully arrive until 2016, with his earlier than expected return, Matthews has proven that he will give his all trying. Due to his work ethic and determination, if anyone would defy the odds, it would be Wesley ‘Iron Man’ Matthews.