Easing in mid-season signings can be challenging, but Wesley Matthews has a chance to add a fair amount of offensive value in Indiana.
The second Wesley Matthews got traded to the Knicks, everyone knew he would get bought out. It wasn’t even worth the mental strain of thinking about how he would fit in New York. Instead, the thought was “What contender is going to snatch him up?”
The answer turned out to be the Indiana Pacers, who have a gaping hole at the shooting guard position in the absence of Victor Oladipo. The Pacers can offer Matthews a copious amount of playing time (and possibly a starting spot), something appealing to him as he looks for one final big contract.
Well, that’s the thought, at least. In reality, he will only get big minutes if he fits in with the team and can contribute. In the former, we should have no problem.
“A good vet who works extremely hard, leads by example,” Doug McDermott told Scott Agness of the Atheltic about Matthews. “Just a great player on both ends of the floor.”
In the latter, we might have a different line of thinking. Great off court fits can be described pretty easily and mostly anecdotally. But great on-court fits requires some thinking and research. Let’s start by looking at his synergy play type profile, which shows his effectiveness in certain common basketball offensive actions.
Are you a “good-news first” kind of person? Or a “bad-news first” person? Let’s start with the bad news.
Matthews is 32 and had a brutal Achilles injury earlier in his career. That limits his effectiveness in certain areas. You can read, so you can see which play types he hasn’t been able to perform effectively in this season.
The two play types Wesley Matthews struggles in the most are when he is the pick-and-roll ball handler and as the ball handler after receiving handoffs. These account for almost 1/5th of the offensive possessions he is involved in, and yet he ranks below the 15th percentile in both. Oof.
Granted – the Pacers offense is different than the Mavericks or Knicks offense. His frequency being involved in certain play types could be seriously altered in Indiana. But every team has dribble handoffs and PnRs built into their offense. Matthews will have to execute them at some point.
The Achilles injury he had holds him back big time. That, combined with his heightened age, limits his speed and burst when coming around big men with the ball, and defenses can disrupt Matthews without a switch:
Matthews is shooting 31/91 in the paint this season, per NBA.com. Right at the basket, he’s okay, but he’s generally contact-averse. If there is a big in his path, he often throws up a Cory Joseph-esque floater, and they have not been falling for him. Fuse that with his issue creating separation, even with a screen, and it’s clear why he himself struggles as the ball handler in these play types.
Matthews is a pretty standard passer when driving to the rim. His lackluster ability to score in the PnR/off of handoffs combined with that makes those scenarios a weak option for his team.
The Pacers beat the PnR to death thanks to the skills that their big men have as roll/pop men. They finish a trip down the floor with a pick and roll 15.8 percent of the time, their second highest of any play type. Matthews will get a decent number of chances to execute these actions. Perhaps he can be better than he was earlier this season when navigating one of Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis’ elite screens, but he won’t add a ton of value to the Indiana offense in this way.
Wesley Matthews isn’t a great isolation player, but I don’t care about that, and the Pacers won’t either. Victor Oladipo was the only players on the Pacers who had free reign to isolate. Now, it never happens. Matthews won’t get to do it, so don’t worry about him struggling in this area.
That marks the end of the areas that I would call Matthews below average in on offense. We have made it to the good news, and thank goodness we did. Matthews does excel at a range of skills that mostly all fall under one umbrella.
He is a master off the ball.
Wesley Matthews is great in transition. He’s a fantastic spot-up shooter. He is incredible coming off screens. You have to keep your eye on him at all times, and that makes him valuable even when he is away from the play.
Let’s be anecdotal. Transition basketball is hectic and frenzied. The most effective teams/players in transition are good at quickly recognizing what is soon to happen and reacting to the situation. Rarely are two fast breaks (in which there are defenders present) similar.
Matthews is able to be effective in transition thanks to his elevated basketball IQ. As a solid spot-up guy, he knows he can do more than just barrel to the rim. If he fills his lane, he creates space and forces the defender(s) to make a tough decision. That opens up an opportunity for someone, which often leads to points:
Despite being one of the slower paced teams in the league, the Pacers are top-10 in fast break points per game. Matthews will just be another weapon for the Pacers to use when they are flying down the floor.
In 5-on-5 situations, Matthews’ skill manifests itself in a similar two-ways: Off of screens and spotting up. Spotting up, he’s really good. Off screens, he is elite – landing in the 94th percentile of points per possession.,
When Doug McDermott is on the floor, the Pacers love to start off most sets by having him fly off a screen. Wesley Matthews can be used in a similar way. Head Coach Nate McMillan told J Michael of the Indy Star that some personalized sets will be constricted for Matthews, so I expect a fair number of possessions in which the first read is to see if Matthews is open coming off a screen.
Something like this:
I like that one in particular because there are two screens. Matthews is a bit slower than McDermott, so giving him two opportunities to shake his man and get up an attempt he thrives at hitting is a set worth running for Indiana.
Matthews rubs shoulder with nearly every screen. He creates space for himself just by running around big men at the appropriate angles. Watch him perfectly use DeAndre Jordan as the fulcrum here to get himself an open look from the top of the key:
If McMillan decides to draw up sets/actions for Matthews similar to that one, Wes can help Indiana in a huge way. He could even be used as a decoy to open up secondary actions for Bojan Bogdanovic. I love the idea of those two flying around together.
When Matthews spots up, you can just look away. It’s going in.
His effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot situations is a tidy 59.1 percent. If he gets even just a decent pass and space to shoot, he’s hitting it. From 3-point range, this is even more so the case – Matthews is hitting over 40 percent of his catch and shoot threes this season.
If you help off of him just a tiny bit too far like PJ Tucker does here, you’re getting burned:
An added bonus to Matthews’ pallet of good skills – he is great in the post. He’s a 6’5 guard, which makes a ton of generic cross-matchups mismatches. Incidentally, the Pacers LOVE to attack the mismatch.
This is where I think Matthews will get a shocking amount of burn. I talked about his struggles shooting over bigger men in his PnR/Handoffs section, but smaller guys give him no troubles:
He can pass out of the post as well. Gel that with his savvy off-ball movement, and you can get masterpieces like this:
There is a lot to like about Wesley Matthews fit within this Indiana offense. But the pick and roll heavy scheme McMillan operates under means that Matthews fit could be limited. He’s less a play initiator and more of a play finisher, and the starting 5 isn’t saturated with the play creation/initiation skill. In that way, Matthews could be an awkward puzzle piece.
But if he’s flying around the court with his high IQ and posting up smaller guards, he will certainly add something on the offensive end. Add that with the depth he brings and snug off-court fit he is, and signing him was a no brainer. The offensive value Wesley Matthews adds may not fit the Pacers to a T, but he absolutely increases the ceiling of the team.