Wesley Matthews has evolved into a stellar NBA starter. The fifth year shooting guard out of Marquette found his fit with the Portland Trail Blazers. Matthews’ ability to score from distance and his outstanding defense efforts has caused critics to think twice about what he is capable of. This past season, Matthews raised his game and his value.
Matthews was able to accomplish something for the first time in his young career this season: start and play in all 82 games. His previous high for starts in a season was 69, though he has played in all 82 games in two previous seasons. Matthews’ offense saw an uptick in many statistical categories. He saw increases in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and points per game. His impact on the way the Trail Blazers attack was very noticeable this season.
Much of the attention in Portland is given to LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, and rightfully so. However; Matthews might be the glue that holds this team together. He has tremendous heart, passion, and leadership. Early in his career, he faced criticism and adversity in the form of going undrafted in the 2009 NBA Draft. The Utah Jazz saw something special in Matthews and gave him a chance; the Trail Blazers are very glad they did.
Every player has his strengths and weaknesses. Let’s explore the the skill set of Wesley Matthews to determine where he shines and where he can continue to improve.
Matthews finished this season with a higher field goal percentage than he had last season. It was not his best finish in this category nor was it his second best but his game seemed to be more well rounded. Three-point percentage saw a slight dip but his two-point percentage jumped from .478 to .490. Another big leap came from the charity stripe were he increased by four percent. Matthews isn’t the best shooter on the floor but he can provide clutch baskets. He also helps spread the floor when the defense collapses around Aldridge and Lillard, which creates open looks and high percent shots.
Matthews can play defense y’all. It was his ability to defend James Harden that allowed the Trail Blazers to earn their first-round playoff win against the Rockets this year. Defense is often under appreciated in the current NBA model. Teams are looking for ways to score more and more points. Most teams struggle to play defense well and create problems for their opponents. The Trail Blazers have two strong defenders in Matthews and Nicolas Batum. Batum has freakishly long arms that help him match up with anyone on the floor. Matthews doesn’t have a specific quality that makes him a good defender. I think it comes down to determination and grit; a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove he belongs on the court at all times and plays out every possession. Is he a Top-20 defender in the NBA? Probably not, but on a team that struggles mightily on defense, Matthews has stepped up in a big way.
Time to start nitpicking. All in all, Matthews is pretty good with the ball. He only averaged 1.3 turnovers per game this season. His total turnover count was just one higher than a year ago. Call me crazy but it seems like when Matthews does turn the ball over, it comes at an inopportune time– not that there are especially great times to turn the ball over. His ball handling skills are not that impressive for an NBA shooting guard. His capacity to create his own shot off the dribble like is not quite what I wish it was. This causes Matthews to have his pocket picked every so often. Small spot for improvement but one that I think can be fixed.
Overall, Wesley Matthews is a great fit for the Portland Trail Blazers. His defensive ability might be a little skewed given that the team’s overall defense is terrible, but he has shown improvement in many areas. His contract does expire after next season and a decision will have to be made. I’d like to see Matthews continue to grow and develop as a member of the Trail Blazers. “3-and-D” players are a valuable commodity with a style that ages well, and Portland will be better for keeping him around as long as possible.