As the Portland Trail Blazers begin to get their rotations set and momentum built before the postseason, there is one player who could be key to the team’s hopes of making some noise in the ultra-tough Western Conference. While LaMarcus Aldridge is the main option on offense and serves as the frontcourt lynchpin for the team, it’s a member of the Trail Blazers backcourt that, when all is said and done, will have as big, if not bigger influence in the team’s plans.
That player? None other than sophomore guard Wesley Matthews.
Matthews was an undrafted player coming out of Marquette (which, by the way is also fellow shooting guard Dwyane Wade’s alma-mater), but he put in the hard work that was necessary to ensure the beginnings of a career of the NBA. After a successful stint in the Summer League, Matthews was invited to the Utah Jazz’s training camp in the fall of 2009, and made the cut. Soon after, he found himself becoming one of Jerry Sloan’s favorite impact players off the bench throughout the season, with his excellent one-on-one skills as well as his basketball IQ.
In his unheralded rookie year, Matthews appeared in all 82 games, starting 48 in the latter half of the season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists, while also tallying 0.8 steals. His shooting percentages were very impressive for a first-year guard (48.3 FG%, 38.2 3FG%, 82.9 FT%) and he rarely turned the ball over (1.1 TO), signifying that he could be a very solid contributor in the NBA in the years to game.
After a successful run in the playoffs that year, the Jazz declined to re-sign the promising guard. Soon afterwards, Wesley Matthews inked a five-year deal with the Trail Blazers worth approximately $34 million dollars. He started the season somewhat shakily, struggling to find his true role on the team. This run of inconsistency continued until Brandon Roy began suffering from his recurring knee issues.
That’s when Matthews was handed the keys to be Portland’s starting shooting guard. And he hasn’t looked back since.
In the 30 games that Roy had missed, Wesley Matthews’s impact and influence on the team grew, as he became a very deadly shooter from beyond the arc, and the team’s best secondary option behind LaMarcus Aldridge in terms of offensive output. During that stretch, Matthews averaged 17.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists, while shooting 42.5% from the field, and a potent 41.2% from three-point territory. On defense, Matthews collected 1.3 steals per game, but that line is only a fraction of how pivotal his defense, grit, and toughness assists the Trail Blazers.
Even after Brandon Roy returned to the team’s rotation, Matthews has still continued to produce at a highly efficient clip for Portland. Although his workload has been reduced, that only allows Matthews a greater luxury of rest for the games that matter. Any player that can launch 3-point bombs at a clip of 40% or higher is a major threat to opposing defenses, and a great option to pass to. He is prone to the odd off-nights on the offensive end, but his effort put towards the defensive side of the ball can never be understated. It’s defense that wins a team championships, and a team such as the Trail Blazers, that prefers to slow the ball down and use as much of the shot clock as necessary to take a good shot, benefits greatly from having a player like Wesley Matthews.
The statistics will tell you one story, but his overall impact on the court is best reserved for an Academy-Award winning script. Wesley Matthews is guaranteed to work hard on both ends of the court, and can score when called upon, which is why I believe he will be a key component for the Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs.
It’s not every day that an undrafted player ends up making such an impact on the league. But kudos to Matthews for teaching us that by being the first to enter the gym and the last to leave, anyone can become a success story in whatever occupations they put their mind to.