Practice Report: Wesley Matthews

Mavs G Wesley Matthews is ticked off and ready to get a win tomorrow night at home against the Trail Blazers.

There has been a lot of talk about Wesley Matthews’ shooting struggles on the offensive end early on — he’s shooting just 31.3 percent from deep on 9.5 attempts per game in four appearances for the Mavs, although he connected on 3 of 5 in his last game — but not much at all about just how good he’s been on the defensive end this season.

Trust me: His shot will start falling. He’s been one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA for most of his career, and despite what his box score numbers might suggest, he does appear to have more burst and athleticism now than he did last season, his first after recovering from a torn Achilles. No one is more upset about Matthews’ struggles than the man himself. The cold streak won’t last.

But everyone ought to want his defensive performances to continue in perpetuity. Through four games, here are some numbers that pop out about his defense.

— Matthews has contested 10.5 field goals per game, according to NBA Stats. Not defended, but contested, as in actively contesting the shot. Of the top 50 players in the NBA in contested shots, he is the only guard on that list. Every other player is either a forward or center.

— Opponents are shooting just 29.2 percent on 2-point shots when Matthews is the closest defender to them, per NBA Stats, and only 33.3 percent when inside 10 feet. Those same players’ averages on those same shots in all other games they’ve played this season: 46.2 percent on 2s, and 63.1 percent when inside 10 feet.

— Matthews has had to guard Rockets superstar James Harden in two games already this season. Harden played a little more than 74 minutes in those two games combined, and Matthews was on the floor for all but about 30 seconds of them.

Harden’s stat lines in those two games (2 GP): 27.0 points, 7.5 assists, 41.5 FG%, 6.5 made free throws per game, 6.0 turnovers.

Harden’s stats against everyone else so far (3 GP): 35.0 points, 15.7 assists, 56.3 FG%, 10.7 FTM/gm, 3.7 turnovers.

Still superstar numbers, sure, but not possibly-best-season-of-all-time numbers.

— In 16 isolation possessions against Matthews this season, opponents are shooting 0 of 7 from the field with six turnovers and three free throws, for a grand total of 0.312 points per possession. That is the top mark in basketball, per Synergy Sports. Overall, Matthews ranks in the 86th percentile league-wide in points per possession allowed this season. And that’s including two games against Harden.

It’s fair to want Matthews to increase his shooting percentages, but it is also reasonable and sane to expect that they will go up as time goes on. He’s a terrific shooter, and there aren’t many other players on this team who will put in more time to work out the kinks than Matthews will (and already has). I think the upward curve already started with his performance Wednesday against Utah, and that swing will continue tonight. The man himself has already talked this game up, too.

“We’ve got to play like our contracts, our lives, our families, everything depends on it,” Matthews said.

Whatever happens on offense, though, he’s already been defending like his career is on the line. And the Mavs hope it stays that way.

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