Wes Matthews: I'll be ready

Mavs guard Wes Matthews talks about the progress of his rehab, reuniting with Deron Williams, the upcoming season and more.

The first thing you should know about Wes Matthews is that he prefers neither Wes nor Wesley. Call him what you want; he doesn’t care — and that’s straight from the source himself. That’s probably fitting, too, as it seems winning occupies the top-10 spots on his list of priorities.

The second thing you should know about Wes Matthews is that he can shoot the lights out, and in today’s league that’s going to help you win. The top-eight teams in the NBA last season in three-pointers made each qualified for the playoffs, so quantity matters, and that’s exactly what the Mavs’ new 2-guard will provide. Matthews has hit more threes than anyone in the NBA aside from Stephen Curry and Kyle Korver since entering the league in 2009-10.

But if half of basketball is production, the other half is consistency, and Matthews is as consistent as anyone, too. He’s hit at least 150 treys in four of the last five seasons dating back to 2010-11. Meanwhile, only four Mavericks have hit at least 150 in a campaign since the end of the 2006-07 season, and only 10 Mavericks have ever reached that mark. Curry is the only other player who has as many 150-threes seasons since 2010-11.

And since 2010-11, Matthews has averaged 2.3 made three-pointers per game. That ranks among the most prolific shooters in the NBA. Just five other players have done the same.

Player 3P% TS% 3P/gm
Stephen Curry 44.1% 60.8% 3.1
Klay Thompson 41.8% 53.1% 2.6
Ryan Anderson 38.1% 56.1% 2.4
Damian Lillard 36.8% 55.8% 2.4
Wes Matthews 39.4% 57.5% 2.3
Kyle Korver 45.9% 63.6% 2.3

Dallas has had plenty of excellent long-range launchers — including Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd, the latter two of whom are in the top-five on the NBA’s all-time three-pointers made list. Even former Mavs Vince Carter and Peja Stojakovic are in the top-10 list, too. But Matthews might just be the most prolific of them all. His average of 2.3 threes made in the last five seasons matches Terry’s single-season career-high, according to Basketball-Reference. Meanwhile, Nowitzki has never averaged more than 1.9 made treys.

Matthews’ rare combination of production and efficiency — he’s one of just 11 players ever to maintain career averages of 14 points per game, 39 percent shooting on 3s, and a true shooting percentage of 57 or better — makes him a unique shooting guard in Mavs history. Terry and Michael Finley are the two most productive shooting guards to play alongside Nowitzki, and Rolando Blackman scored more points than any Mavs not named Dirk. But Matthews is a pure shooter with size, standing 6-foot-5. He’s Jason Terry in Michael Finley’s body, making him a very dangerous offensive player.

If the three-point shooting isn’t enough, he can also score in the post more efficiently than just about every other guard in the NBA, and it’s that element of his game which potentially sets him apart from guards of Mavs past (and of the NBA’s present). Longtime Mavs fans will remember Finley and Jerry Stackhouse posting up in the mid-’00s, but otherwise Dallas shooting guards have rarely ventured anywhere near the low block. However, the advantages of doing so, especially when playing beside sharpshooters like Parsons and Nowitzki, are bountiful.

But first, here’s a look at just how efficient he was last season. Of all guards in the NBA who received at least 100 post-up looks, Matthews averaged more points per possession than every single one of them, and it really wasn’t very close.

Player Possessions FG% Points/Poss
Wes Matthews 126 50.0% 0.992
Arron Afflalo 102 48.7% 0.990
DeMar DeRozan 127 43.1% 0.929
Dwyane Wade 216 45.8% 0.889
Russell Westbrook 156 43.4% 0.869

This is where the apparently fuzzy math of points per possession becomes a bit more clear. At 0.992 points per possession, Matthews averaged just 0.103 points/possession more than Dwyane Wade. That might not seem like a lot, but look at it in terms of points. Matthews scored 125 points last season on 126 post-ups. In his opportunities, Wade scored 67 more points, but it took him 90 more tries. If Matthews had the same number of chances as Wade (and scored at the same clip) he would have created 214 points, or 22 more than Wade’s 192. And if you want to get even more technical, Dallas could use those 90 extra possessions to run other actions — say, three-pointers. All it would take to make up those 67 points is hitting 23-of-90 from beyond the arc (just 25.6 percent). One-tenth of a point per possession might not seem like much, but across a season it makes a huge, huge difference.

Matthews combines his own ability on the outside and on the block with a good nose for making the right pass. Last season, Portland’s main stable of shooters (Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Steve Blake) shot 48-of-121 on three-point attempts off of Matthews’ passes, good for a blistering 39.7 percent, per SportVU. This indicates Matthews is able to swing the ball while on the outside to find the right guy, and also that he’s able to pick out the right spot-up target when he’s posting up. Like Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki is a power forward who can catch and shoot from the perimeter.

By placing Matthews on the block and Nowitzki on the outside, Dallas can “invert” its offense and take advantage of the resulting mismatches. Not all power forwards are used to defending on the edge, just like not all shooting guards are used to defending in the post. Matthews’ greatest strength, fortunately for him, aligns with his opponents’ major area of weakness.

It’s not just Nowitzki who will benefit from Matthews’ interior presence, though. Parsons and Deron Williams are both excellent three-point shooters themselves, so their defenders can’t afford to sink off the shooters to offer help defense on Matthews if he has a size advantage on the block. By loading up on the perimeter with shooting, the Mavs are going to force defenses to maintain their discipline this season, otherwise they risk getting burned by multiple threats.

While a big-body shooting guard who can both shoot and post up might seem like a rarity in Mavs history, mixing in terrific defense makes Matthews even more one-of-a-kind. Dallas has had plenty of quality defenders at the 2-guard spot over the years — from Adrian Griffin to DeShawn Stevenson — but none have been able to combine that with offensive explosiveness.

Basketball analytics have illuminated so much we’d never really known about offense, but defensive data is still coming along. That said, the Mavericks do stress two things on the defensive end: Stay in front of your man, and force turnovers when possible. There’s no question Matthews can stay in front of his man, but he can swipe the ball as well. He’s one of 59 active NBA players to average at least 1.1 steals per game going back to the 2009-10 season, and he’s joined on the list by Chandler Parsons. If that perimeter duo can combine with Deron Williams to force at or near three steals per game this season, added to the contributions of charge-drawing savants Devin Harris and J.J. Barea, the Mavs perimeter defense should improve from last year to this one.

Efficiency matters as well, of course, and luckily there is publicly available SportVU data that measures a player’s defensive prowess as it relates to field goal percentage (DFG%). Last season, Matthews allowed opponents to shoot 40.5 percent on all field goal attempts, 3.2 points better than the league average. That mark would have tied with Harris for best on the team. It becomes all the more impressive when you consider Matthews was frequently defending the opponent’s best perimeter scoring threat.

Defense Category DFGA DFG% Avg. FG% Difference
Overall 9.3 40.5% 43.7% -3.2%
3-Pointers 3.4 32.8% 35.0% -2.2%
2-Pointers 6.0 44.7% 47.6% -2.9%
Less Than 10 Ft. 2.6 50.3% 53.5% -3.1%
Greater Than 15 Ft. 5.7 34.9% 37.1% -2.2%

While there are no numbers that could show Matthews (or anyone else) is a shutdown defender, combining field goal percentage allowed data with things like game tape and reputation across the league will give you a better idea of who’s a great defender and who isn’t. And, by all accounts, Matthews is a great defender, and that’s great news for the Mavs.

When it comes to Mavs history, Matthews truly is a unique guy. He has great size for his position, he can shoot the ball like crazy, he can operate in the low post, and he can defend as well as anyone. In combination with Williams and Parsons, Matthews’ abilities figure to stand out even more than they did last season in Portland, when he became one of the more highly regarded shooting guards in basketball.

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