How Does Wesley Matthews' Injury Impact the Blazers' NBA Playoff and Championship Chances?
We've been trumpeting the Portland Trail Blazers as legitimate contenders since December here at numberFire. With top-10 ratings in offensive efficiency, defense efficiency, and our in-house nERD metric, the Trail Blazers have looked poise to make some noise in the Western Conference.
The importance of their two All-Stars, Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge , is well-documented. But what's made the Blazers so dangerous this year has been their balance on offense. The Blazers' five-man lineup of Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum , Aldridge, and Robin Lopez has been the third-most heavily used five-man lineup in the entire NBA, maintaining a plus/minus value that ranks sixth in the entire league.
With five straight wins (and four of them against teams currently in the playoffs), the Blazers appear to be peaking at the right time. However, in last night's blowout victory against the Dallas Mavericks, Portland lost shooting guard Wesley Matthews to an Achilles tendon injury that will sideline him into next season. LaMarcus Aldridge called Matthews “the heart and soul” of the team, and our projections here at numberFire show how big of an impact Matthews had on the Blazers success.
Take a look at their projections before and after the injury.
|Projections||Before Injury||After Injury|
|Most Likely Seed||#3 (32.7%)||#4 (32.4%)|
|Winning First Round||49%||41.60%|
|Winning Conference Semis||20.00%||13.40%|
Without Matthews in the lineup, the Blazers championship odds have been nearly cut in half, and their chances of winning a playoff series have significantly decreased. Matthews gave the Blazers a steady three-point shooter (he has never shot lower than 38% from downtown in his career), and at 6'5'', 220 pounds, Matthews has brought a physical presence to the defensive end that has allowed him to keep opponents to a field goal percentage 3.9 points lower than their average.
So, how can the Blazers reproduce his production?
When Arron Afflalo was brought in at the trade deadline (and Alonzo Gee, to a lesser degree), the Blazers hoped that the new additions would be able to spark a bench unit that ranked 25th in offensive efficiency and 17th in defensive efficiency. However, with Matthews' injury, Afflalo will likely be inserted into the starting lineup, leaving the bench stretched thin once again.
Let's take a look at what Afflalo brings to the table, in comparison with Matthews.
|Career Averages||Wesley Matthews||Aaron Afflalo|
The numbers seem to indicate that Afflalo has essentially been a poor-man's Wesley Matthews throughout his career, with similar per game averages, but at lower percentages. Aaron Affalo gives the Blazers a steady spot-up three-point shooter, and a physical defender in the mold of Matthews. Afflalo has had a few down years, and has seemingly been disengaged with the Nuggets and Magic, but if the opportunity to start for a playoff team revitalizes his game, the Blazers may be able to survive the hit from Matthews injury.
It's still obviously a big downgrade though. According to our player nERD metric, which measures the number of wins above or below .500 a team would perform at if a specific player were to play with league-average players, Matthews' 7.4 rating this year is nearly 13 points higher than Afflalo's (-5.2). That, in the end, could spell disaster.