It’s wild to realize Wesley Matthews is entering the final year of the four-year deal he signed in 2015. It’s even stranger considering the last year of that deal is the year he plays alongside DeAndre Jordan for the first time, considering that plan almost came to fruition four years ago.
Matthews is heading into his 10th NBA season, the fourth in Dallas. The Achilles injury he suffered his last season in Portland has sapped him of much of his speed, quickness and explosion, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a quality starter and a key piece to the Mavericks organization for the past three years.
Matthews’ 2017-18 season was cut short due to a right leg injury, but Iron Man was still able to play in 63 games while pumping in 12.7 points, grabbing 3.1 rebounds and tallying 2.7 assists in nearly 34 minutes per night. His numbers dipped slightly across the board, but he saw his shooting percentages increase from the field and from deep where he canned 38 percent of his long-range attempts.
As Dennis Smith Jr. progresses in his second season and Luka Doncic develops as a playmaker in the NBA, Matthews will finally be able to slide into a more traditional 3 & D role that best fits his skill set. The Mavericks have lacked playmakers since Matthews arrival, but this season projects to be the first year he finally gets to play the role the front office envisioned he’d play when they signed him to his four year deal in the summer of 2015.
The biggest question surrounding Matthews this year is how he responds to that role. It’s painfully obvious Matthews is not much of a shot creator. Last season he scored .64 points per isolation possession according to nba.com. That ranked him in the 15th percentile. He also struggled to get to the free throw line recording the lowest free throw rate of his career at .145.
This season Matthews will be asked to primarily be a floor spacer, which is a skill he’s been improving on this off season.
“After the injury ... [Mavs assistant coach God Shammgod] and I worked on shooting threes deeper to have that become more of a rhythm for me, and a routine and a habit to extend my range,” Matthews told the media after the first training camp practice. “It helps me to get more open looks because guys will be hesitant to close out two, three feet behind the line. And it helps out spacing out as well.”
On the other end, Matthews will be tasked with guarding the opposition’s best perimeter player. That’s a brutal task in the Western Conference. In October alone he’ll face a three game stretch of checking Donovan Mitchell, DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James.
Matthews will be 32 by season’s end, and the Mavericks are getting younger each year. How he responds to this specific role could go along way when the two sides sit down and talk this summer.
Best Case Scenario
Last season Matthews had his most efficient season as a Maverick, improving his shooting percentages in almost all metrics. Coincidentally, he logged the third lowest usage percentage of his career. Matthews’ role was naturally scaled back with the emergence of Smith, and he was able to focus on what he does best: stretch the floor and play defense.
Now, with Doncic and DeAndre Jordan in the fold, Matthews should be afforded the opportunity for a continuation of that simplified role. There will be fewer post-ups (though he ranked in the 85th percentile last season), less isolation, and more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Matthews’ shot chart last year was encouraging. He hit 41 percent of his threes from the left corner and connected on a blistering 51 percent from the right corner. And from the wings he shot a respectable 37 percent from deep.
Matthews will likely see a dip in scoring — Rick Carlisle expects a balanced attack. But the key will be Matthews’ efficiency. He’s increased his shooting percentages every year, and seeing that trend continue would be a success.
On the other end, the Mavs need Matthews to be a disruptive defender. There will be gaping holes in the defense as long as Smith and Doncic share the court, and Matthews will be heavily relied on to be the first line of defense.
Worst Case Scenario
Matthews has done an admirable job making people forget he’s recovered from a ruptured Achilles. But could this be the year his age slowly catches up with his grit and determination? If Matthews’ shooting percentages slip, that would be discouraging, considering the Mavericks could be a high-octane attack that threatens defenses from every angle.
He’ll always have a little bit of a gunner’s mentality. He’s only shot north of 40 percent from deep once in his career. But shooting south of 38 percent while attempting six triples per game would be a let down for one of the Mavericks’ few sharp shooters.
Matthews’ name was thrown out in trade rumors on draft night and again before free agency. On paper he’s an $18 million expiring contract. He very well could be auditioning for another team this season. But as is normally the case with Matthews, much of his contributions can’t be tallied in the box score. He raises the energy and intensity on the second night of back-to-backs. He holds players accountable and sets the standard through the grueling months of an 82 game season. He’s a warrior that gives the young guys an example of what it takes to make it in the NBA.
So while it’s true Dirk Nowitzki is still the face of the franchise, Matthews might just be the voice. The Mavericks could have a tough decision to make this summer (or at the trade deadline) depending on how well Matthews fills his role this year.