On Marquette’s senior day, Wesley Matthews was giving his speech and thanked head coach Buzz Williams for “unleashing” him. For three years, Matthews had played under Tom Crean where he went through the motions in an offense that hardly showed off his penetrating ability and speed on the fast break.
In his senior year, Matthews became a force on offense and played great defense every night, usually against a bigger opponent. Matthews was listed as a small forward on the team’s depth chart but was really the third guard along side Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. He got off to a blistering start on the year and led the team in points during the non-conference schedule and was agruably the team’s MVP during that stretch.
For the year, Matthews averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and shot 45.7 percent from the floor and 83 percent from the free throw line, with all those numbers being career highs. While he played bigger on the court than his size indicated he should play, Matthews will move to a shooting guard/small forward combo role in the NBA. At 6’5″, he will have below average height for the position but the question is more based on whether Matthews is fast enough to play and defend at the next level.
Matthews was given the opportunity to play in this year’s Portsmouth Invitational and made the most of it. He played in three games where he averaged 14.4 points and four rebounds per contest. He was put on the Invitational’s All-Tournament team along with the Tournament MVP DeMarre Carroll from Missouri.
When I watch Matthews, he reminds me a lot of Atlanta’s Maurice Evans. The main similarity between the two is on the defensive end where both play undersized at the small forward position. Evans plays very physical and puts himself in good position on the court where he averaged three rebounds per game. Matthews shows the same kind of physicality and will have to add a little more muscle if he wants to go pound for pound with small forwards of the NBA. Offensively, Matthews drives to the hoop more and relies on getting to the free throw line whereas Evans has relied on a jumper most of his career. While Evans probably plays better defensively, Matthews will give NBA teams a lot of options on offense.
If Matthews makes it in the Association, it will be because his ball handling is good enough that he can drive to the hoop. In college, Matthews could use his size to bully his way into the lane and would draw fouls on most occasions because of it. However, going up against giants in the pros means that the undersized Matthews will need to be more agile and have a better handle on the ball. He has always had a knack for getting to the charity stripe and will use that wherever he plays.
Matthews’ jump shot also made great strides this year and he showed off some three-point ability as well, averaging 1.2 threes per game. The place Matthews made his money, outside of the lane, was his mid-range game. Because of Marquette’s small lineup and driving ability, Matthews knocked down a good percentage of 17-footers that he shot. Towards the later part of the Big East season, his fade away on the baseline became a trademark and his seemingly his favorite spot on the court. In the pros, Matthews’ may have trouble getting off shots with his jump shot as he hardly jumps on them. Still, the fact that he is able to make the outside shots he does take gives optimism that he can succeed at the next level.
Defensively, Matthews is an interesting prospect. He excelled in college playing tough defense, doing a great job staying in front of opponents and being in the right spot at the right time going up for rebounds. He also does a nice job getting out on the break and finding an outlet after he rebounds the ball, something that will get him noticed. His size will clearly hurt him some at the next level but if Matthews is quick enough to stay in front of defenders and keeps the same work ethic on defense that he has shown in college, it should not be a huge issue.
If a team decides to take Matthews, they are getting an outstanding basketball player and an even better person. It’s true that he is undersized and does not have as much upside as some of the other players slotted to go late in the draft. But Matthews has the experience, toughness, and discipline that is unmatched by any of those same players. It will probably be a long shot to make a team but any team that takes a flyer on him as an undrafted free agent knows exactly what they are getting.
My Predicition: Undrafted