How Wesley Matthews' Torn Achilles Has Altered the 2014-15 NBA Playoff Race
Wesley Matthews isn't a household name.
He lets his on-court action talk for him, he doesn't make a name for himself by posterizing opponents on a nightly basis, and he plays solid defense. Oh, and he plays in Portland, so the East Coast is usually asleep by the time his team tips off.
But Matthews has been a key piece in Portland for years, and he was coming off an 82-start regular season in 2013-14. After a torn Achilles tendon in early March, he, obviously, hasn't played for the Blazers since.
In the 14 games since Matthews' injury, the Blazers are just 7-7 and are becoming a topic of scrutiny, as their division lead currently grants them home court advantage in the first round despite having fewer wins (48) than the Spurs (49) and the Clippers (50).
Can they figure things out by the start of the postseason? Is losing Matthews going to continue to prove insurmountable? And what does this all mean for the NBA playoffs as a whole?
With and Without Wes
Of course, I say that the Blazers were better off with Wesley Matthews, but why should you believe it? Well, the numbers, for starters. Here are the Blazers' full 2014-15 splits with and without Matthews.
|Matthews Splits||Minutes||eFG%||ORtg||Opp eFG%||DRtg|
Portland's offense is 1.5 points better per 100 possessions with Matthews on the floor, but its defense is nearly a full four points worse without him. The opposition's effective field goal percentage boosts by close two two percentage points while the Blazers' effective field goal percentage is only a tad better without Matthews.
It's no real surprise that the Blazers are hurting without Matthews. According to our nERD metric, which indicates how many wins a player adds over the course of a season if he was a starter, Matthews was the 32nd most efficient player in the league and would have provided the Blazers 5.0 full wins above .500 had he played out the year.
But one key thing to reiterate is that the Blazers are still as good with Matthews as without him -- offensively. In fact, their Offensive Rating has improved from 104.5 to 110.4 since March 6, but this has been at the expense of their Defensive Rating and their Net Rating.
Before the injury, their Defensive Rating (99.3) was third in the league, and their Net Rating of 5.2 was fourth.
Their Defensive Rating, though, has ballooned to 109.3, fourth-worst in the league since the injury, and this this has shrunk their Net Rating to just 1.1 in the past month, tied with Memphis for the 12th-best in the league.
They've gone from a serious threat to a not-so-serious one in the past four weeks.
A Playoff Puzzle
As the current NBA playoff structure works, the Blazers, provided they wind up winning their division, are guaranteed a top-four seed in the playoffs. Our power rankings expect the Blazers to finish with the sixth-best record in the West (52.4 wins and 29.6 losses).
But they're 6.5 games up on the Thunder, so they're all but locked into home-court advantage, which is good news for them, as they are 30-8 at home this year, the third-best mark in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Hawks.
They currently are the seventh-best team in the league (and were fifth as of March 4) and now hold just a 3.0% chance to win the NBA Finals this year, per our math -- the ninth-best odds in the league. Based on record and current form, they really don't exactly deserve to host a first-round series despite their early-season dominance, and the current rules are granting a very big advantage to a struggling team without a key piece.
When all is said and done, though, Matthews himself has a long road to recovery and still isn't a household name despite his great all-around play, which is unfortunate for his future.
However, his absence has evidenced two key aspects of the NBA's hunt for success: the league might need to reconsider how teams get seeded in the playoffs and fortunes can change drastically on any given night.