When you ask Dallas Mavericks fans their opinion of Wesley Matthews, it’s like flipping a coin. They either love him unconditionally or think the Mavs should move on and try to trade him. As for the Dallas front office, it’s clear that they want to keep Wes for at least the rest of his contract, and the more I think about it, I think they might be on to something.
As far as his contract situation goes, there isn’t as much whining about that as there used to be. Matthews is set to make $17.8 million in the 2017-18 season. It’s not ideal, but as much as the salary cap has risen since 2015, that’s not awful for a guy that’s averaged 13 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in two seasons with the Mavs. Not to mention, Wes has also played in 151 of the 164 regular season games after coming off that grusome Achilles injury he suffered when he was with the Portland Trail Blazers. That’s remarkable if you think about it. There’s been a lot of guys throughout the NBA’s history that haven't been able to return from that specific injury.
Another thing that has held Matthews back from maximizing his production with Dallas, in my opinion, is the fact that he’s shouldered most of the team’s defensive efforts. Whether his shot is falling or not, that’s the one area where you trust Matthews to be pretty solid, night in and night out. That said, the energy Matthews puts towards being the team’s defensive anchor has taken a toll on him these last two seasons, especially towards the end of those seasons. That’s where I think we’re going to see a difference this season.
Matthews is going to have a lot more help on both sides of the court this season. Assuming the Mavs iron things out with 23-year-old big man Nerlens Noel, Matthews won’t have to shoulder all of that defensive burden. Noel only played 22 games with the Mavs last season, and only started in 12 of them. Matthews and Noel only shared the floor together in 16 of those 22 games. The point is, with Noel starting and patrolling the paint from the beginning of the season, Matthews won’t have to exert himself to the extend he has been. Obviously, a lot of that hinges on Noel proving that he can stay healthy and consistently be the rim-protector Dallas so desperately needs, but I have faith in the Mavs’ world-class training staff to do everything within their power to make that happen.
Offensively, Matthews shouldn’t ever have to force up a shot unless he's in a situation where the shot clock is winding down in the ball in his hands. As for having the ball in his hands, that shouldn’t happen very often anyway, now that he will be sharing the floor with rookie point guard sensation Dennis Smith Jr. DSJ.’s ability to get to the rim whenever he wants will open up the floor for Matthews and the other shooters on this team, and I would expect the majority of his touches to be of the catch-and-shoot variety.
Next, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry both figure to improve on what was a career year for each of them in 2016-17. Barnes turned 25 years old this summer, and Curry’s 27th birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, so both are still young enough to see some significant improvement. I expect Barnes to average around 23 points per game this season by making a point of getting to the free throw line more often. As for Curry, I see him keeping up his efficiency from last year, while playing 25-plus minutes off the bench as the Mavs’ sixth man. Then, of course, you can’t forget about Yogi Ferrell. Coming off a surprising season where he made the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team, the former undrafted rookie is sure to build off of his success, adding even more firepower to the Dallas bench.
All of this isn’t to say that those players can’t regress this season. It’s certainly possible, but given their collective age and continuity playing with each other (other than Dennis, he’s new), you should bet on improvement. Oh yeah, and Rick Carlisle is still pretty solid last time I checked. He’s the main reason I believe there will be significant growth in those specific players this season.
No matter what you currently think of Matthews, it’s clear that he’s been running himself ragged as a Maverick. With more help than he’s had in his two years in Dallas, I expect Wes to have the best season he’s had in a Mavs’ uniform in 2017-18. The effort has always been there. The grit has always been there. The heart has always been there. This year, the help will finally be there.