Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle knows you’re watching Wesley Matthews’ recovery from his Achilles injury. He knows the media is watching, too. And he doesn’t care.
“Yeah I’m really not concerned about Wes’s shot,” Carlisle said. “I said that the other night, and I’ll say it again tonight. You guys can keep writing about it if you want to. But nobody is reading it in our locker room. It’s really process stuff. He just has to keep approaching it the right way.”
Wesley Matthews knows you’re watching his progress from his Achilles injury. He knows the media is watching, too. But after he scored 21 points against Philadelphia on Sunday night — his first game of 20 or more points in more than a month — he acknowledged this six-week stretch has been frustrating.
“The past month and a half has been rough on me offensively but I came in last night (Saturday) and got some shots up,” Matthews said as the Mavs ready for tonight's visit from OKC. (Get the GameThread and more conversation here on DB.com Boards). “My shot finally started dropping. I did a little adjusting but the biggest thing is that you just want to stay positive and confident.”
Based on his numbers, Matthews’ confidence has ebbed and flowed this season.
When the Mavericks signed Matthews this summer, they knew they would have to proceed cautiously with him due to his ruptured Achilles, an injury that curtailed last season. Matthews returned in November and after shaking the rust off had a consistently productive December, scoring 15.6 points per game. But when the calendar turned so did Matthews’ shooting touch, as his scoring average dropped by 5.8 points per game (9.8 ppg) from early January until Sunday’s outburst.
Juxtaposed against Chandler Parsons’ sharp uptick in production since the start of this season, Matthews’ struggles made it seem like he was taking a step back. But in the long game of a recovery from an injury like this — and the rigors of an 82-game season — there are bound to be valleys.
This season the Mavs made no deadline trade moves. They lucked out with the David Lee acquisition (check out Mike Fisher’s Q&A here), as the Boston Celtics granted him a buyout so he could join a team where he could get more minutes. They are what they are at this point. But a resurgent Matthews might be as good as any trade deadline move the Mavs could make.
After 53 games Matthews is averaging 12.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.9 apg and 0.9 spg. His scoring average for this season isn’t too far off his career scoring average (14.4 ppg). But he averaged his career-best of 16.4 ppg in 2013-14, so he’s capable of a higher ceiling. The real question is whether his ceiling for the rest of this season could be higher.
I went in search of potential parallels between Matthews’ situation and the situations of other players who suffered the same injury. CBSSports.com and Fangraphs did some great research on players that have suffered Achilles injuries and their production post-injury. As I reviewed the list, I looked for players that fit Matthews’ playing type — guards or forwards. That’s why I eliminated players like Elton Brand and Stanley Roberts from this sample.
Then, I looked at the remaining players and chose players that logged the kind of minutes that Matthews has logged this season (33.1 minutes per game) in their equivalent number of games post-injury. That lines up with just four players in the sample — Dominique Wilkins, LaPhonso Ellis, Kobe Bryantand Chauncey Billups. I eliminated Billups after research turned up that he didn’t play enough games post-injury to match up with Matthews.
So does the post-Achilles history of Wilkins, Ellis and Bryant tell us anything?
Wilkins is the best-case scenario and it’s really more a testament to Wilkins’ immense talent than his overall recovery. He came back to the floor in roughly the same amount of time as Matthews and reclaimed his pre-injury production. In his first 53 games post-injury, Wilkins averaged 29.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg per game, 3.3 apg and 1.2 spg. In the next 18 games that season Wilkins averaged 29.9 apg, 6.4 rpg, 2.9 apg and 0.5 spg. So he remained consistently productive in his first season post-injury.
Next is Ellis, who had an injury-prone career. In his first 53 games post-injury Ellis averaged 13.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 apg and 0.8 spg. In his last 23 games that season Ellis actually improved his scoring and rebounding numbers, averaging 15.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.7 apg and 1.0 spg.
Finally, Bryant. His first set of post-injury numbers are spread out over the course of three seasons. In his first 53 post-injury games Bryant averaged 17.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.3 apg and 1.1 spg. In his next 36 games Bryant’s numbers did not change — 17.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg and 0.9 spg.
Based on that data, it seems unlikely that Matthews might start filling the basket at a substantially faster rate than he is now. But it’s quite possible that he’ll either continue on the track he is now or, if he has Ellis’ luck, he might lift his scoring average by a point or two.
That doesn’t make Matthews’ first season as a Maverick a wash, but a realistic picture of a player returning from one of the game’s most devastating injuries.