We continue handing out report cards at Rip City Project, after having given out an A and a B- to Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor respectively in the previous entry of the series. Up today are the other guards that were regularly deployed by the Blazers during the season, Wesley Matthews and Will Barton.
Wesley Matthews | #2 | Guard
Wesley Matthews’ role for Portland is simple: spot up for threes and play solid defense. Beyond that, not too much is asked of him. Well, Matthews accomplished his role to a T this season.
His defense wasn’t outstanding, and that can be attributed to his lack of lateral quickness and also the level of support he had from minimally gifted role players. However, his toughness and relative bulk, at 220 lbs for a shooting guard, came in handy. Matthews was able to guard some of the stronger wings of the NBA because of his strength, and the Blazers had the convenient option of being able to switch defensive assignments between him and Nicolas Batum, who is taller, longer and quicker but also weaker. While he wasn’t an All-Defensive Team player by any means, Matthews was a very serviceable defender for Portland this season.
The offensive end was where Wes Matthews truly shined. He drilled a career high 2.4 threes per game (tied for 5th in the NBA) at a shade under 40%. Consistency was a season-long theme for him from beyond the arc and he led the way for a strong trio of three-point shooters in the startling lineup (which included Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum). Because of that group, LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson were left with a ridiculous amount of space in which to operate.
Portland may have liked to see more from Matthews inside the three-point arc, and from Batum as well. They were both strong three-point shooters, but in order for such dedicated specialists to co-exist, they need to be able to offer more than just shooting. Both were capable of getting to the rim and generally finished well there, but drove too rarely. Combined, they shot 53.0% of their shots from three as opposed to just 22.5% at the rim. Neither player shot a better percentage from mid-range than they did at the rim or even beyond the arc, so they need to make cutting towards the basket without the ball a more prominent part of their games or risk a redundancy easy to game-plan against.
This is particularly important for Matthews, who lacks Batum’s versatility and potential. He could be expendable under the right circumstances, and risks being shipped out if he doesn’t add more to his game. This season, he did fine, even very good. However, Portland needs more than what Wes is giving them—they already have two top-tier shooters in Lillard and Batum, and a one-dimensional shooter like Matthews is just building up a surplus without addressing any weaknesses.
Will Barton | #5 | Guard
Drafted 40th in last year’s draft, Will Barton played a moderate role for the Blazers in his first season. The most notable trend during his rookie season was improvement. As the season continued, Barton got better and better. He rarely cracked more than 3-5 minutes in the early portion of the season, but those minutes increased as Barton gained experience. When Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews sat out the last few games of the season with injuries, Barton was trusted with five straight starts to close out his rookie campaign.
Barton’s season averages don’t fairly represent what he did at the end of the season, but they do speak about his entire season. He was an extremely raw product, even until the end. His shot-making ability is going to have to improve, just as the percentages indicate. Throughout the regular season, Barton showed a total lack of consistency with his jumpshot.
But, Barton was able to make strides in practically every area of his game as the season progressed. Check out Barton’s stats in the last six games of the season.
There’s a lot to like from those games, especially when compared to his season averages. The most notable thing to me was Barton’s field goal percentage. He shot over 50% in half of the games, and scored 15 or more in all but one. His jumpshot still wasn’t ultra-reliable (2-11 on threes, a little better from mid-range), but it was Barton’s aggressiveness and athleticism that proved to be the most reliable weapon for him. The dunks and layups came in flurries, and his production from the free throw line was amazing over that stretch.
The second thing I want to point out is Barton’s rebound/assist/steal production. With the exception of the Lakers game, he really showed some skill on the boards, as a playmaker and in the passing lanes. He even registered a double-double as the season winded down. It’s important to point out that the heavy load of minutes he played in some of those games might have helped in giving him more time to rack up those stats, but it speaks volumes about his improvement nonetheless.
Six games aren’t anything to judge a season by, but for Barton, those six were representative of the improvement theme that followed him his rookie year. However, we can’t take him for granted yet. He showed some very nice flashes of potential, but it’ll have to continue in his sophomore season.