Wes Matthews: My heart is here

Wes Matthews dishes on coming to Dallas, the progress of his rehab, how hungry he is to prove himself and much more.

It hasn’t taken long for Wes Matthews to go from basketball afterthought to household name and statistical star.

Matthews, the Mavs’ newest wing, went undrafted in 2009 but made an immediate impact as a rookie anyway. Now, after six stellar seasons in the NBA, the 28-year-old has become one of the most sought-after perimeter players in basketball.

OFFENSE

To get an idea of just how effective the 6′ 5″ guard has been since entering the league, let’s start with this: Only Stephen Curry and Kyle Korver, perhaps the league’s two most respected shooters, have hit more threes since Matthews entered the league in 2009. Matthews has hit more than James Harden, Kevin Durant, and every other player in basketball. And he’s done it efficiently, too: He’s one of just 23 players to have shot at least 600 3s since 2010 while connecting at a 39 percent rate, per Basketball-Reference.

It doesn’t stop there. Of those 23 players, Matthews’ 48.6 field goal percentage on two-pointers ranks seventh, and the guard has increased his 2s percentage from year-to-year three seasons in a row now. He’s still improving at this stage in his career, which is what makes a signing like this so significant. He’s already 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, and there’s a chance we haven’t yet seen his best work.

Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle dishes on what Wes Matthews brings to the team, the addition of JJ Barea, Jeremy Evans and more.

The league is very clearly going in a direction that requires teams to always load up their rosters with shooters, and there aren’t many in the league better at draining 3s than Matthews. Now when Chandler Parsons attacks the basket, he’ll have a reliable kickout option. When Dirk Nowitzki is posted up at the elbow, he won’t be double-teamed by a defender free to roam around the floor instead of guarding his man. Mavs big men will have a clear path to the basket on rolls to the rim. Matthews’ shooting ability will open things up for every other player on the floor, and in that same vein his teammates’ abilities will make his job easier, too.

Dallas’ offense was still successful last season without a big-time shooter, but Matthews brings with him an added dimension that can send this unit over the top. Not only does he add to some areas of strength, but he also vastly improves the club in what had previously been areas of weakness. Below is a chart showing the Mavs’ ranks in various offensive categories last season in terms of points per possession against what Matthews himself was able to do.

STAT WES MATTHEWS DALLAS MAVERICKS
Spot Up FG% 42.1% 39.1%
Points/Poss (Rank) 1.166 (90%) 1.024 (10th)
Post Up FG% 50.0% 49.0%
Points/Poss (Rank) 0.992 (86%) 0.973 (1st)
Off Screen FG% 44.9% 42.1%
Points/Poss (Rank) 1.189 (91%) .880 (20th)

To simplify that chart, only one out of every 10 players to appear in the NBA last season scored more efficiently on spot-up opportunities than Matthews. Dallas, meanwhile, ranked behind nine other clubs in that area. And considering Matthews is likely to play a large chunk of minutes once he fully recovers from an Achilles injury that sidelined him for the end of last season, it’s safe to expect the Mavs’ performance in that aspect to improve.

The most interesting tool in Matthews’ repertoir, however, is his ability on the block. He shot 50 percent from the post last season, ranking among the best players in basketball. As a big-bodied shooting guard, he can take advantage of size mismatches. And while we hear all the time about how the league is getting smaller at this position and bigger at that one, there are still plenty of smaller 2s in the NBA Matthews can post up against with success.

The Mavericks haven’t had a starting 2-guard with above-average height who could score in the post since Michael Finley, so it’s been nearly a decade. Other players like Jerry Stackhouse and Vince Carter have operated on the block, however, and Rick Carlisle has also used Shawn Marion and even the smaller Monta Ellis in the post during his time in Dallas.

Guards are about as uncomfortable defending in the post as big men are defending 25 feet from the rim. That’s what makes a player like Matthews so valuable: He’s really good at doing things his opponents aren’t even used to doing. How many shooting guards in the league ever post up? Only four guards in the league posted up more than Matthews last season, per Synergy Sports, and Matthews scored more efficiently than all of them. So, when he catches the ball in a favorable situation, his defender might be more prone to take risks, like leaping to intercept the pass, attempting to draw a charge, or doing something else out of sheer desperation. It looks great when it works, but when it doesn’t it leads to easy buckets.

This is an especially handy skill to have playing the shooting guard position in Dallas, which features a power forward who can play exclusively from the outside if you want him to. The Mavs can run an inverted offense, taking advantage of two mismatches at the same time: one on the block and one on the outside. A power forward won’t be used to guarding Dirk 20 feet from the bucket just like a shooting guard won’t be used to checking Matthews from five feet away. Meanwhile, 6′ 10″ Chandler Parsons is running pick-and-rolls, and he’s as good at that as just about anyone. What do you do as a defense?

Because the guard has such a size advantage over his opponents, teams might be tempted to double-team him once he catches the ball. Fortunately, Matthews took terrific care of the ball in the post last season, turning it over just 6.7 percent of the time when he passed out of the block. Spot-up shooters hit 37.5 percent of their field goal attempts off his passes, too, and considering most of those attempts were three-pointers, that’s a solid conversion rate.

DEFENSE

Matthews is also a terrific defender, which is perhaps the most valuable element of his game. He can guard 2s, of course, but due to his size and strength he can also defend some small forwards. That gives Dallas the freedom to switch on defense without working itself into a disadvantageous situation.

Portland allowed just 99.4 points per 100 possessions last season when Matthews played, best among the team’s starters by almost three points. Meanwhile, when he wasn’t on the floor the Blazers allowed 103.4 points/100, per NBA.com. His defensive capability was sorely missed when he went out with injury.

As far as two-way players go, Matthews sits near the top. He was one of just 34 players in the league last season to average at least 15 points per game while also maintaining an individual defensive rating of 105 or better, per Basketball-Reference.com, and just 14 of those players were guards. That group doesn’t include any Mavericks, which essentially makes Matthews the best two-way player on the team.

The acquisition of Matthews along with the draft choice of Justin Anderson signifies a shift in philosophy for the Mavs. They want to build a versatile defensive team with the ability to spread the floor and shoot it on offense. Matthews is the prototypical 3-and-D player in that regard, although as we’ve seen his talents are clearly not just limited to shooting threes. He can move with and without the ball, and he can also move it himself. He can do whatever you ask him to, which is what makes him such a special player.

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