Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
A lot has happened for the Dallas Mavericks since the start of July. They re-signed some familiar faces, while adding some new guys into the mix as well. Many people have spent time analyzing how Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Seth Curry will fit in with their new team. There’s talk about how Deron Williams will try to stay healthy this season, and if Dirk Nowitizki can continue to produce at an all-star level at the ripe age of 38. Even though all those names will play key roles in Dallas’ success next season, the biggest name flying under the radar is Wesley Matthews.
Despite suffering a brutal Achilles tear with the Portland Trail Blazers in March of 2015, Matthews was in the starting lineup for the Mavs in October, just 8 months later when Dallas played the Phoenix Suns on Opening Night. Given the NBA’s depressing history of players that have suffered that same injury, what Wes did was absolutely incredible. Players like Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups came back from the injury, but saw significant drop-offs in their performances. Isaiah Thomas, hall of fame point guard for the Detroit Pistons, didn’t even attempt a comeback. After 13 seasons, Isaiah’s career was over.
Not only was Matthews back on the floor contributing, but he also played 78 of the 82 regular season games last year. When he is referred to as “Iron Man,” it’s not just a playful nickname. This man is as tough as they come. He feeds off the idea of people counting him out. He is deeply motivated from being an underdog his entire career. This rings true every time you see him sporting his “UND2AFT3D” t-shirt, referring to the 2009 NBA Draft when he didn’t hear his name called.
Perhaps Matthews is being overlooked because his numbers took a slight dip last year. Let’s take a look at how his per-game offensive numbers compare pre-injury to post-injury:
2014-2015 (POR) – PPG: 15.9 REB: 3.7 AST: 2.3 FG%: .448 3P%: .389
2015-2016 (DAL) – PPG: 12.5 REB: 3.1 AST: 1.9 FG%: .388 3P%: .360
(Stats per basketball-reference.com)
Now, call me optimistic if you want to, but for a guy coming back from a torn Achilles in 8 months, then starting for nearly the entire season, those declines seem microscopic. To me, a decline in points-per-game last year isn’t a huge issue, being that Wes took nearly 2 less field goal attempts per game than he did in 2014-2015 with Portland. I won’t get into a lot of the advanced stats, but one that I found very encouraging was the fact that the Mavs’ offensive rating was 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Wes on the court and 100.3 with him off the court. His drop in overall FG% is enough to raise concern, but you also have to take into account that Matthews didn’t exactly get to use last Summer to refine his shooting skills due to rigorous rehab sessions.
Defensively, there wasn’t a lot of change number-wise. In my opinion though, the numbers don’t do him justice with how he finished the 2015-2016 campaign. As the Mavs fought hard to claim the 6th seed in the West, it seemed as if Matthews was always there making big defensive plays at the end of games. The end of the video below provides a nice example of that. With Dallas only up 2 points on Houston, Jason Terry missed his second free throw. Not only did Wes keep Corey Brewer from getting the offensive rebound, but he also had the presence of mind to chase down the loose ball and hit it into the backcourt to make sure time expired.
If there’s one thing Mavs fans can hang their hats on, it’s that Wes is going to play his heart out every night he’s on the hardwood. We haven’t heard much of anything from him this summer, and I think that’s a good thing for Dallas. You can bet he’s in a weight room somewhere, grinding like he always has, with that “me against the world” mentality. He’s sharpening his arrows in anticipation for Opening Night. He’s beaten the odds up to this point, and with his injury fully behind him, I expect to see a fully resurgent Wesley Matthews in 2016-2017.
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