Think of Wesley Matthews’ game as a trip to the salad bar.
The essentials are there. Grab your lettuce, some dressing and sprinkle croutons throughout. That’s your first trip down the line.
Then, you come across the toppings. Eggs, onions, noodles, tomatoes, etc. They bring flavor and excitement to your plate, knowing that there’s more than what meets the eye.
In a nutshell, the Dallas Mavericks guard’s season has been endless trips down the salad bar line. Some have been good, some have ran out of ranch and leave you drizzling oil and vinegar on the lettuce.
But overall, the Wesley Matthews Renaissance has been refreshing. It has come at an inopportune time, with Dallas at 9-23 as of Dec. 28 and the playoffs slowly looking like a mirage on the highway.
Record aside, these Mavericks play tough. They’re physical on defense and do not look like a team that wants to tank the season away. They feel, with Dirk Nowitzki slowly coming back into form, they can contend for that No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
That toughness has stemmed from Matthews’ play.
Rough first month
When a team struggles offensively like the Mavericks have, things can get weird.
Dallas lost by double digits six times during its 2-12 start, and Matthews provided no help through that stretch. He scored in double figures only once in those six games. Ironically, it was that game against the Los Angeles Clippers that seemed to snap Matthews out of his slump.
But Matthews couldn’t throw a rock into an ocean while standing in it for the first month.
Wesley Matthews: Oct 26 - Nov. 25
Not great. Not even good. It was so bad for Matthews, there were four games he took more than 10 three-point attempts. Only one of those resulted in a Dallas win: The Mavericks’ first win of the year against Milwaukee on Nov. 6.
He was having a career-low season in almost every category across the board. But something clicked after the Mavericks lost by 38 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Matthews scored six points the night of Nov. 25, the sixth time he scored less than 10 points in a game.
He’s been on a tear since.
The guy the Mavericks were hoping for
Dallas has gone 7-9 since Nov. 25. Given how the season started, this is a good brand of basketball.
Part of that has been due to the resurgence of Matthews, connecting on long-range shots and becoming one of the Mavericks’ primary scorers, sans Dirk.
The Mavericks are 4-2 since Nov. 27 when Matthews scores at least 20 points, and has scored in double figures in all but two games.
The shooting percentage is still not where it needs to be (less than 40 percent), but he made more threes from Nov. 27 - Dec. 10 than he did the first month of the year.
Wesley Matthews: Nov. 27 - Dec. 26
That 17.9 points per game would be a career-high for Matthews. Seeing how the bulk of his points have come from long range (evidence of the spike in his field goal percentage), this has been an odd, yet inviting, renaissance.
Also, he has made 20 more threes this month than he did last. The confidence in his jumper is back, and he’s the guy the Mavericks paid more than $70 million for.
All it has taken is a bad record and more than one season to make it happen.
Can he keep up this pace?
After scoring 25 points in Dallas’ 20-point win over the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 12, Matthews seemed to validate his thoughts that he would be better than ever after suffering the ruptured Achilles three years ago.
“I always felt that that’s what I could be in this league, given the opportunity,” Matthews said, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “I’m going to get better.”
The numbers have taken a hit since that game, averaging less than 13 points a game on 35 percent shooting, but he’s made up for it with his defense. The way he locked down Damian Lillard on the final possession in Dallas’ Dec. 21 win is going to be the top play on Matthews’ highlight reel as a Maverick. Dallas almost gave the game away, but he found a way to win. That’s what Dallas needs.
this Wes Matthews defense on the final possession was incredible pic.twitter.com/DHkFIZir4u— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) December 22, 2016
He’s going to fall into his occasional slumps, but he won’t bottom out like he did to start the season.
When Dallas has needed wins to gain some sort of respectability, Matthews has come up huge. That might not mean much now with the Mavericks being a cellar dweller in the Western Conference, but the Mavericks need a guy like Matthews when the going gets tough like it is right now.
Dallas has a lot to look forward to with Matthews, both this year and beyond. His play in a down year like this will dictate how he fits into future plans on both ends of the floor.
So far, he’s passing that test with flying colors.