Wesley Matthews the Role Player

I have covered the Blazers’ starters this past week, from Lillard to Batum and Aldridge to Hickson, so check them out if you missed them. There’s just one left!

Wesley Matthews and his 14.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game don’t exactly jump off the page. In fact, even when you adjust for minutes played, they don’t become any more impressive (because Matthews plays a lot of minutes). A 15-point average in the NBA is nothing to scoff at, but it’s still just 13th best among shooting guards. It’s safe to say that Matthews isn’t what you’d call a volume anything. What Matthews is is consistent. During the past three seasons, all with Portland, Matthews’ has been almost machine-like. Check out some of his key stats below:

Season

3pt%

FT%

TS%

Usage

Rebs

Pts

PER

2010-11

0.407

0.844

0.582

15.3

3.4

17.0

15.5

2011-12

0.383

0.860

0.539

13.8

3.6

14.6

14.1

2012-13

0.403

0.784

0.578

14.5

2.9

15.5

14.5

Not a lot has changed from Matthews since he became a Trail Blazer, and the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) sums that up appropriately. Matthews’ role is that of a, well, role player, and the 15-ish Player Efficiency Rating (PER) over the past three seasons exhibits that. John Hollinger, the creator of PER, sets the league average to 15.0 every season. This year, some of the shooting guards closest to 15.0 include Ben Gordon, Ray Allen, and Andre Iguodala, if that gives you any frame of reference.

The present and future of this franchise belong to LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, and to some extent, Nicolas Batum. Those three also happen to score 57% of the Blazers’ points. Matthews doesn’t really need to score in bunches, and he won’t get a lot of assists either since his touches aren’t designed for passing. Matthews, perhaps more so than any other starter, needs to be an efficient offensive player. That means limiting his turnovers, nabbing a few offensive rebounds here and there, and shooting high percentages.

Shooting

It’s a good thing, then, that Matthews has the best True Shooting Percentage (TS%) among Blazers’ back court players, and the 8th best TS% among shooting guards in the league. Matthews will probably never score 20 per game, but as long as he continues to shoot 40% from three, and nearly 1.15 points per possession, he’ll be a productive complement to the Blazers’ other starters.

Rebounding and Turnovers

I’m obviously not too concerned with his lack of volume scoring or his 14.5 PER, but one thing that he could do better as a role player revolves around rebounding. I’m mostly concerned with the fact that Matthews ranks 50th among the 66 qualified shooting guards in offensive rebounding percentage. Matthews doesn’t use a lot of team possessions for himself, so he should have extra time to crash the boards. But instead, he can be found ranked behind the likes of Kobe Bryant, Gordon Hayward and Jimmer Fredette when it comes to the offensive glass.

You might conjecture that these guys just get their own misses often enough to pretend to be good offensive rebounders. However, according to 82games.com, just 16% of Morman Jim’s scoring opportunities have come from “inside,” 22% for Bryant, and 25% for Hayward, as compared to Matthews’ 23%.  All these guys hang out away from the basket, too, but they get more of those OREBs! Plus, Matthews is hardly undersized at 6’5, 220 pounds, so I have to conclude that he just needs to get his ass in there and earn one more offensive rebound per game. One more offensive rebound could be worth a point per game. Another point per game on average translates into an expected three-win upgrade for the Blazers. I wouldn’t mind three more wins. It’s the little things! Okay maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but he could still get in there more often.

As for ball security, Matthews actually limits turnovers pretty well. He ranks 19th in possessions used per game among shooting guards, but has only the 25th most turnovers per game. More time with the ball in his hands + less turnovers = good thing. Matthews’ turnover numbers are definitely not hurting the Blazers.

In total, our #2 is a quality role player. His 15 points per game make him a high-scoring role player, but still a role player. His offensive skills are fairly one-dimensional, and while he’s a good outside shooter, he’s not the best in the league.* He doesn’t give away possessions turning the ball over, but he doesn’t earn them back getting offensive rebounds either. Matthews will never be a star, but many teams need a Wesley Matthews around. The Blazers have one. Check.

*It turns out that Martell Webster guy we traded away for Luke Babbitt is currently 4th in the NBA in three-point percentage. Awesome. 

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