Six games into the season, Wes Matthews is having the best start of his career.
His 6.2 rebounds per game is more than double what it was a year ago, his field goal percentage (56.5%) is 13 points higher than last season (43.6%), his 18.0 points per game are a career high, he’s shooting a maniacal 53% from three, and his PER is a blistering 21.4— far better than his career average of 14.3.
Whether all of this is sustainable is yet to be determined. While some of these numbers will probably tick down as the year goes on, there are a few changes in Matthews’ game that lead one to believe he’s due for an unexpected (and most welcome) performance boost.
- His ball handling has improved. I don’t ever remember a time in years past when Wes has looked particularly comfortable off the dribble, but it’s obvious he’s worked on it over the summer. While nobody will be confusing him with Brandon Roy, he’s able to drive into traffic, evaluate the defense, and even pop it back out without getting flustered and picking up his dribble. That’s a huge asset. Whereas before he might have driven into a thicket only to get trapped, he’s developed the confidence to at least get himself out of the weeds before picking the ball up, leading to fewer broken plays, better shot opportunities for himself and his teammates, and better rebounding position for everyone else off those shots.
- He’s finishing better at the rim. While his 60% field goal percentage from right around the bucket is just 5% higher than last year, it’s 12% higher than two years ago. Also, those easy shots can be demoralizing when they don’t fall, effecting a player’s confidence from elsewhere on the court.
- He’s learned how to post up. Even Kings coach Michael Malone praised Matthews’ post-up game following the Kings’ second consecutive loss to the Blazers this week. Has there been a time that we’ve praised the post-up skills of any of our guards since Brandon Roy and Andre Miller left town? Not that I can remember. It’s a logical addition to his game, since Matthews is a stout 6’5’’ and 220 pounds, but it’s not one I would have ever thought he’d make. Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.
- He’s developed an off-the-curl midrange jumper to compliment his catch-and-shoots. Especially last game, it surprised me because it looked so much like something Nicolas Batum would do. Shooting while moving has never been Matthews’ strong suit, but he’s learning quickly.
It’s more complicated than saying Wesley Matthews is shooting well. He, like Joel Freeland, singled out the weaker points of his game and worked on them during the offseason. The numbers we’re seeing now may not last, but if they do, it won’t be because of luck: it will be because of hard work. And because hard work is something that Matthews has always been known for, he may become a better player when most others are reaching a plateau or declining, and that would be a great benefit for the team moving forward.