A Look at Wesley Matthews

Utah Jazz guard Wesley Matthews, left, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant battle for the ball during the first half of Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series at Staples Center in Los Angeles on May 4, 2010. The Lakers won 111-103 . UPI Photo/Lori Shepler Photo via Newscom

"Black Mamba? *Eminem voice* I'm not afraaaaaaaaid.." (Credit: YardBarker.com)

So I was sitting around the other day, bored out of my mind, reading the latest ESPN The Magazine when I flipped the page and there he was. Lying down on a bed with a blind fold on and his #2 Blazers jersey lied Wesley Matthews, with a big old mac and cheese grin on his face. And if you know his story, who could blame him? It’s easy to point to that $9.2 million contract he inked this summer as the reasons for his grin, but he’s got more reasons than that. Ready or not Blazer fans, here comes Wesley Matthews.

Matthews is an interesting case as it relates to the Blazers. He’s one of the few guys on this team you can’t really put a finger on yet. What kind of expectations can you put on a guy in his second year in the league and first year with a different team? The organization has fawned over him, from scouts, to the coach, to the GM all the way up to owner Paul Allen. They are all high on this kid. Many in the media like Matthews’ talent–they don’t feel like he should have gotten such a large paycheck. And then there are Blazer fans…who are somewhat in purgatory when it comes to Wesley Matthews. I don’t blame them because I find myself right there with them. What can we expect from Matthews? What does he bring to the table? How will he push this team to the next level?

Generally speaking, when a free agent signs with the Blazers, expectations are placed on him. There’s a level of hype or buzz around his name. Don’t believe me? Rewind to last year when Hedo Turkoglu was believed to be a Blazer for 10 minutes and then when Andre Miller eventually signed. That buzz and hype…is simply missing with Matthews. There are question marks that can’t be answered until people see him on the court. Seemingly, that’s been protocol for his entire career.

If you haven’t heard the Wesley Matthews story, I’d suggest you read Eddie Matz‘ article on him in ESPN The Magazine. Long story semi-short: walked-on at Marquette, went undrafted, made the Jazz’ roster, ended up starting 48 of 82 games including Utah’s final 23 of the regular season and all 10 of their post-season games. Signed a monster deal in the off-season. His hunger and determination for the game should attract Blazer fans, who generally speaking, enjoy hard workers and passionate ballplayers. People should be impressed by the fact that as a rookie, he not only cracked Jerry Sloan’s rotation but ended up as a starter. Not many players can put that on their resume. The question is…what does he bring ot the table.

I’m going to pull a couple quotes because they opened my eyes, and should open yours. First from Matz‘ article in ESPN The Magazine:

“He doesn’t take bad shots, he has a tremendous basketball IQ, and he’s a tough SOB,” says one Eastern Conference scout. “He just finds a way to make plays. Not drafting him was a grave mistake.”

Next a quote from Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, who wrote this as Matthews competed in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in 2009:

“Matthews’ constant motion off the ball and ability to recognize how to attack seams in the defense is very impressive, and he takes full advantage of it with strong drives to the lane and finishes at the basket.”

Next an article written about Matthews during the playoffs from Tim Buckley of the Deseret News:

“That’s how he is. He’s a tough kid, physically and mentally,” point guard Deron Williams said. “He’s a physical defender, he does a great job moving his feet. And he doesn’t give up on plays.”

“He’s tough, man. He’s tough as they come, on and off the court,” small forward C.J. Miles added. “And going through the road he went made him even tougher.”

“I’ve guarded (Bryant) throughout the year,” Matthews said. “I guarded LeBron, guarded Carmelo. You know, I love this challenge. I embrace it, and I’m willing to step up to any challenge.”

He sounds like the protoypical guy that coach Nate McMillan would drool over. On paper, Matthews gives the Blazers something they have not had in this 3-year renaissance: a tough, physical, perimeter defender. The past few years, the Blazers have lacked guys who can really defend the perimeter players and it has hurt them. There’s a reason Jason Richardson went nuts in the playoffs and killed the Blazers hopes of advancing to the second round. And this is no knock against Nic Batum, who is a tremendous defender, but he needs help. The past few years, the Blazers have ‘hoped’ that Martell Webster could blossom into a great defender…and bless his heart he tried, but it wasn’t there. Against the Carmelo’s and Kobe’s of the world, he was often overpowered and looked to be in over his head. With Matthews, the Blazers have a guy who guarded both of those men in the post-season…as a rookie, and drew wide praise for his efforts.

Offensively, I draw back to the first quote I posted. He doesn’t take bad shots and his has an ability to make plays. What more could you ask for? Not to pick on him, but let’s rewind to the Martell Webster era seeing as I feel like Blazer fans will naturally compare the two. Martell didn’t really have the world’s greatest selection and one of his biggest drawbacks was an inability to make plays on his own. Let’s not forget, Matthews did well in Utah’s structured offensive system. Nate McMillan has been known for controlling the tempo and an a fondness for excelling in the half-court. Matthews shot 48.3% from the field (more proof of good shot selection) and 38.5% from deep.

According to Synergy Sports, in the 09-10 season, 28.9% of Matthews offense came from Spot-Up opportunities and he connected on 40.6% of his spot-up three’s (67-for-165). Sounds like a guy who you can penetrate and kick to if you ask me. Not only that but 10% of his offense came off cuts and 21% came in transition. He’s a guy who can move well without the ball AND whenever the Blazers do run, he’s a guy who can finish. Team him with guys who do well in transition like Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez and you see the potential for good things to happen.

Overall, I think Matthews came into a good situation not only off the court but on it as well. I’m a little surprised his paycheck hasn’t earned more expectations from Blazer fans, but I actually admire it. He adds punch to the second unit and is an upgrade over Martell Webster. He’s tough, hard-nosed defensively, can make the three offensively and can move without the ball. He also gives Coach McMillan more options when it comes to defending certain guys, or throwing out different lineups on the floor. Now if Batum needs a blow, here comes Matthews to dog a team’s best player. Or what about a uber-defensive lineup featuring Matthews, Batum, Camby and Oden? I still don’t know what to expect from Matthews in the 10-11 campaign, but judging from his past and his probably hunger to prove to people he deserves this contract, all signs point to good things happening for the Blazers.

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