Dallas Mavericks: How Much Blame Falls on Wesley Matthews?
By Jay Knodell
After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Dallas Mavericks are in danger of missing the postseason. How much blame falls on the shoulders of Wesley Matthews?
Let me just start this by noting that this is in no way, shape, or form meant to be a hit piece on Wesley Matthews. The fact that he was able to return way ahead of schedule from a ruptured Achilles tendon to lead the Mavericks in minutes deserves to be celebrated, and by all accounts Wes has been a tremendous Monta Ellis replacement in the locker room.
But I think even Matthews himself would tell you his first season in Dallas has been his worst as a pro. So the question becomes: how much blame for the Mavericks’ disappointing performance over the last few months falls on the 29-year old’s shoulders?
Unfortunately, a fair share.
Matthews’ numbers have depreciated greatly from his final season with the Portland Trailblazers, which is an especially great comparison point at the moment because he’s played 61 games for the Mavericks and suited up for 60 with Portland last year before injuring himself. Even the minutes are practically identical: 2,020 so far this year compared to 2,024 in 2014-15.
Matthews’ field goal percentage has plummeted to 38.5% this season (the second-worst behind Kobe Bryant among qualified players) compared to his 44.8% mark 2014-15. Ditto for his three-point accuracy, currently a career-low 34.7%. And he’s scored fewer than 10 points 22 times this year, compared to 8 last season.
Check out these shot charts:
With the Blazers in 2014-15 Matthews shot better than the league average from just about everywhere on the floor. Not so much this season, especially in the paint and on the left (the viewer’s right) side of the court. His woes in the paint this year can likely be attributed to his injury, and he should regain that added bit of burst necessary to finish consistently amongst the trees over time – remember, it’s barely been a year since the injury occurred. But there’s a marked difference in his efficiency from the left wing that isn’t as easily explained.
As you can see from the charts, Matthews has connected on just 25 of his 91 (27.5%) three-pointers from the left wing. Last season he hit 49 of his 119 (41.2%) attempts from the same spot. From the left corner? 36.4% this year against 46.2% last season on almost the exact same number of attempts.
It would be nice to be able to point to reasons other than Matthews himself for the problems – perhaps the system isn’t getting him many open looks, or his teammates are failing to find him when he is by himself – but it’s tough to make a case for either of those options.
The Mavericks are actually among the league leaders in percentage of attempts classified as open or wide open by the NBA, and the bulk of Matthews’ attempts meet that criteria as well. While he’s knocking down 41% of his “wide open” three-pointers, Matthews is still under 40% overall on “open” and “wide open” shots.
Other than Dirk Nowitzki, the entire team has struggled with consistency on the offensive end. So it’s not like Dallas’ mediocrity there (14th in ppg, 21st in FG%) can be placed solely on Matthews. But for what it’s worth, Dallas is 10-5 when he scores at least 16 points, his 2014-15 average.
And Dallas is 5-10 in their last 15 games despite Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons combining to average almost 40, efficient points a night. Matthews, the guy Mark Cuban and co. brought in to be the reliable, floor-stretching third option shot 39% in those games on 10 attempts per. The Mavericks had four losses by a single possession during that stretch, and Matthews shot 34% combined in those losses, including a 3-13 performance in a two-point loss to Denver last week.
When Wes is just “pretty good” offensively the Mavericks are a tough team to beat, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough.
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When Dallas signed Matthews to a max deal this past summer it wasn’t just for his shooting, so it’s important we talk defense, too. Obviously he’s been an upgrade over Ellis in that department, but his exact impact is hard to quantify.
Matthews does lead the team in steals per game (1.0), and more often than not spends the majority of his time on the opponent’s best player. He’s checked everyone from Chris Paul to Paul Millsap. But there are numbers that suggest that the difference he makes on their success is negligible and opposing teams actually post a better offensive rating with him on the floor.
Even so, the Mavericks are essentially the same team defensively as last season despite Nowitzki being a year older and some key losses to the roster. Tyson Chandler and Al-Farouq Aminu were excellent defenders and much better than their replacements. And no matter your opinion on Rajon Rondo, Dallas was better defensively with him than they were with Jameer Nelson. A lot of that can be attributed to the versatile play of Matthews on that end.
Despite that, the bad with Matthews this season has outweighed the good. And for that reason the team’s highest paid player deserves some criticism. He simply hasn’t been as good as the Mavericks needed him to be in order to contend for home court advantage and be a threat to make it out of the first round. That said, this isn’t necessarily an indictment on the contract he signed in July. His struggles are reasonable if not foreseeable, and with more time Matthews should at least get back to the player he was with Portland.
He’s shown flashes recently, scoring almost 18 points on 52% shooting over a five game stretch in late February.
The Mavericks went 4-1.