Wesley Matthews - 24K Magic
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Ups and downs have been the story of Wesley Matthews’ basketball career, but there has been one constant at every stop: Leadership.
Whether it was starring at James Madison Memorial High School, four stellar years at Marquette or his stops in the NBA, Matthews’ leadership has been perpetual.
“I don’t know whether it’s because of my preparation or my demeanor, it just seems like teams just naturally gravitate towards me as far as a leadership role,” Matthews said. “It’s one that I embrace and one that I enjoy.”
Matthews’ journey up the NBA ranks has been swift, yet hard earned. He came into the league undrafted, overlooked by every team in the NBA. After earning his shot with the Utah Jazz, Matthews made his mark in Portland, establishing a foundation of success alongside Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge.
The rising star suffered a setback on March 5, 2015 when he tore his Achilles in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Matthews’ journey following the catastrophic injury was what stuck out to head coach Rick Carlisle. It helped establish him as a leader in the Mavs’ locker room early on.
“He was a leader-type personality coming in,” Carlisle said. “He had a lot of respect when he came in here simply because of his career and what he stood for up to that point. But then when he ended up playing opening night last year and had the kind of year that he had—I believe he led our team in minutes played—it just builds up equity in the locker room. It facilitates even more respect.”
Carlisle acknowledged that Matthews’ leadership has evolved during his tenure with the team, especially being one of the few constants the team has had through a turbulent season.
“He’s been huge for us,” Carlisle said. “During this year when it’s been difficult, he’s kept guys engaged in the struggle, slugging it out, continuing to compete hard. He’s a special guy.”
As special as Matthews has been, it’s hardly a surprise to the Mavs. Actually, it was his leadership that was one of the reasons the team took a chance on a guy coming off an injury that few have successfully been able to recover from.
“He’s at a Dirk Nowitzki-like level in terms of his leadership,” said Donnie Nelson, the president of basketball operations for the Mavs, prior to Matthews playing a single minute in a Mavs jersey.
It didn’t take long for Matthews to prove that.
Two weeks after Matthews made his season debut, he texted Nowitzki, the face of the Mavericks, following a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that both of them needed to step up as leaders. The result was a 10-point victory the very next night over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Matthews’ role as a leader has a lasting impact in the locker room, but he’ll tell you it starts in the mirror.
“You can’t lead if you’re not doing it,” Matthews said. “If you’re not holding yourself accountable, you can’t expect to hold anybody else [accountable] or anybody else to look at you.”
Matthews has never been shy about doing that. Nine months after suffering what many consider a career-ending injury, Matthews shot 1-of-9 from the floor in a 100-96 loss to the Houston Rockets. Afterwards, he was in no mood to sugarcoat his rough outing.
“I suck right now,” Matthews said at the time. “Point blank, period.
With all of his teammates coming to his defense, Matthews decided to walk the walk. In his next game, he exploded for 36 points, knocking in 10 3-pointers.
For Matthews, that’s just part of ride. He’s quick to remind everybody through rough shooting stretches to not worry; shots will fall. That’s part of his brilliance as a leader. Whether he’s up or down on the court, his teammates are always ready to go war with him.
“He’s tough-minded and he’s tough physically,” center Dwight Powell said. “He’s done a great job of kind of being that guy that’s at the top of your list as far as guys you want to go to battle with.“
His work ethic is second to none as well. Proprietor Mark Cuban has come late at night to the American Airlines Center to attend a concert, only to find Matthews working on his game in the practice court.
Aside from his leadership on the court, Matthews also makes his voice heard in the locker room.
“As far as vocal, he’s all about winning,” Powell said. “So when you have a guy in your locker room that does the right things, says the right things and is about the right things, it really raises the culture and makes you want to be better.”
Leading a group of men when everything falls into place is one thing, but leading a team when players are in and out of lineups due to injury and losses start piling up can be a challenge.
For Matthews’ teammates though, it’s not hard to get behind him.
“He always does the right thing,” said rookie Dorian Finney-Smith. “It’s pure, as in he loves it. A lot of guys, it’s not pure. I see that in him. He really cares about winning.”
One thing that has gone right for the Mavs this season has been the rise of Harrison Barnes, the former Golden State Warrior who assumed a much larger role in his move to Dallas. As Barnes continues to get acclimated in Dallas, he said Matthews’ impact as a leader has been huge for himself, as well as the team.
“He’s done a great job of not only leading by example but with his voice,” Barnes said. “He’s one of our most vocal guys in terms of rallying the troops and being consistent all year.”
Consistency has been the trademark for Matthews throughout his career. Aside from missing the last two months of the 2015 season due to the torn Achilles, Mathews rarely is unavailable. That has been even more valuable this season as nearly every Maverick has missed some time due to injury, including newcomer Seth Curry.
Curry pointed to Matthews’ durability as one of the reasons why he’s easy to get behind.
“He suits up every night, Curry said. “He brings all the energy.”
“He’s all about winning. You always want to line up with a guy like that. It helps you to get going every single night because you know you want to be able to have his back.”
Though Finney-Smith, Curry and Barnes are new faces in Dallas, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are the longest tenured Mavs not named Dirk Nowtizki.
Barea says he has seen how Matthews has grown in his role since the start of last season.
“He was great as soon as he got here but he kept getting better and better,” Barea said. “He’s a leader. He’s a competitor. He wants to win. Team first, no matter what. Personally, I love having him as a teammate.”
It’s a sentiment shared throughout the Mavs locker room and throughout the organization.
“He leads by example,” Cuban said. “He’s just a guy that’s Mr. 110 percent and you can’t ask for anything more than that. I’m proud of him. Excited for him and excited for us.”