After practice on Tuesday, Trail Blazers starting guard Wesley Matthews discussed his preparation for the upcoming season, what his role is on the team, his thought on being described as a “3-and-D” player, getting “out of that box”, changes in defensive philosophies, a new emphasis on accountability and why he’s “gonna play my ass off as a Trail Blazer.”
You’ve talked a little about scaling back your workout regiment. How was this summer different for you?
Wesley Matthews: I had surgery, I had a PRP injection so I was forced to rehab. I was forced to not do anything for about a month and a half span that I usually would have been doing stuff.
Has that changed the way you’ve approached training camp?
Wesley Matthews: About the same thing. A lot of high reps, a lot of volume. Just trying to work myself back in shape, back into game speed.
You’re in your fifth year now. How have you changed as a person since coming into the league?
Wesley Matthews: Just kind of smarter. Just smarter about everything around me, everything that has to do with basketball, the business of basketball and everything that basketball brings.
What do you feel like your role is on this team this year?
Wesley Matthews: I don’t know. I’m sure my role is to defend, is to lead in some magnitude, but I’m always looking to redefine my role. I’ve never been the type to just let someone tell me what my role is and be content and complacent with that.
So you’re looking to flesh-out your role, rather than having it dictated to you.
Wesley Matthews: Yeah. I mean, my role is everything, do everything. Some nights I’m going to lead this team in scoring, some nights I’m not. Some nights I’m going to lead this team in steals, sometimes I might not. Some night lead the team in assists, some nights I might not. My role is to do everything and do everything well.
Is it important for teams to have players who fit specific roles or is that overblown?
Wesley Matthews: I think you have to have roles, but you also have to have people that can excel out of that role. Have a role but also do other things. That’s when teams excel.
Some would consider you a “three-and-D” players, as in, a wing player who shoots a good percentage from the three-point line and plays tough defense. What do you think about being categorized like that?
Wesley Matthews: I mean, that’s cool if that’s what they want to peg me as but I’m not going to read that and then that’s (all) I’m gonna do. Can I shoot threes? Yes. Can I play defense? Yes. Can I get to the basket? Yes. Can I rebound? Yes. Can I set people up? Yes. And that’s how I’m going to play. As soon as I start trying to get one or two dimensional, my worth goes down.
That makes sense. The team has more talent than last year, but it’s not like there’s so much talent that everyone can just “stay in their lane.”
Wesley Matthews: I mean, you’ve got to get out of that box. We’ve got to play basketball. Coach Stotts allows us to do that, our teammates allow you to do that. And that’s just what you’ve got to do. All your preparation all summer leads up this situation where, you know, everything’s not scripted. You can stage everything you want (in practice) but as soon as you get in the game, those guys on the other team, they train just like you do. The shot that you’re trying to draw up to get a wide open three might not be there.
The team brought in players this offseason that either play your position or have similar skills to your own, but Stotts has been steadfast in saying you’re the starter. Do you consider it a competition?
Wesley Matthews: Everything is a competition. Life’s a competition. I never want to back down from competition or shy away from it. It’s only gonna make me better, I’m only going to make them better.
I don’t know what my future holds here. I don’t look at any of that. Some people do; I’m not that kind of person. I’m here, I’m a Trail Blazer and I’m gonna play my ass off as a Trail Blazer.
Stotts has talked about changes some of the philosophies and schemes on defense. Has that changed the way you play defense?
Wesley Matthews: We’re covering pick and rolls differently, putting more emphasis on protecting the paint, protecting the rim and protecting the three-point line, try to get out of rotations. Basically be more accountable, hold yourself more accountable. Two people are in the pick and roll on offense so two people should be able to guard the pick and roll on defense.
You mentioned accountability, which is something Stotts has talked about numerous times during training camp. What does being more accountable mean for a player? What does that look like?
Wesley Matthews: You’ve got to be a professional. You’ve got to take criticism, you’ve got to make sure that your mind and body is ready to work every single day. You’ve got to make sure that you get your work done so that you can be prepared for whatever it is that is thrown at you the next day. And to make sure that you’ve taken care of everything that you can in your power so that you can make sure other people are held accountable.
You’ve been on the team a while now and played for three different coaches in that span. Was that something that was missing in the past?
Wesley Matthews: Nah, I think our personnel is just different. My first year here we had vets. B.Roy was here, (Marcus) Camby was here, Andre Miller was here, Joel Przybilla was here. They’ve been in the league just as long as some of the coaches. The next year with Gerald (Wallace) and Jamal (Crawford) and Ray (Felton), those guys had been around the league as well. Unless you completely harp on it right away, it’s tough to get that accountability.
With the young team that we had last year and this year, I think it’s easier because they don’t know any better. In college, you’ve got to be on time. There’s consequences for everything in college. There’s consequences in the NBA as well, but they’re different. Consequences are more your body in college. Here, you’re held to a professional standard. You come late to work, you get docked pay. You come late to practice, you get a fine. You don’t show up, you don’t play. That kind of thing.
Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews returned to practice on Friday, albeit in a limited fashion, after missing practices on Wednesday and Thursday after experiencing an irregular heartbeat during Tuesday’s morning practice in Tualatin. Matthews dressed and participated in some of practice, which was broadcast live on NBA.com as a part of NBA TV’s “Real Training Camp” series, but was limited to half court scrimmages and drills by order of the team’s health and performance staff.
“Anything that was half-court I was a part of, so we had some live stuff half-court, we did some live four-on-four, live two-on-two, shooting drills,” said Matthews. “And when I wasn’t doing that, they had me on the bike. If I wasn’t on the bike I was just staying engaged.”
Matthews experienced an irregular heartbeat almost a year ago, which caused him to miss the final game of Portland’s 2013 preseason schedule versus the Golden State Warriors. In that instance, Matthews underwent an electrical cardioversion procedure to get his regulate his heartbeat, though this time, the procedure wasn’t necessary, as Matthews’ heart returned to its regular rhythm after a few hours.
“I think having gone through it before, I kind of know what is going on. I just feel like, again, it was a fluke situation. I’m not worried, there’s nothing to worry about. I’m just ready to get back to playing basketball again.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Matthews’ career that the 6-5 guard out of Marquette was already lobbying to return to full duty, though the team’s doctors and trainers would like for him to gradually return to unencumbered action.
“I was ready to go full practice today,” said Matthews. “Heart turned over itself, tests were good, blood work was fine. To me, that’s go play basketball again, but I’m listening. I’m hard-headed, but I’m trying.”
There was no update on whether Matthews would be allowed to return to full-court, live action in time for Saturday’s practice, but he said he was hoping to play in the Wells Fargo Fan Fest, schedule to take place Sunday night at the Moda Center.
“That’s the goal,” said Matthews of playing at Fan Fest. “I want to. We’ll see what the docs have for me. Even if I just go up and down three times, just be out there.”
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com has a nice Q&A with Wesley Matthews conducted after yesterday’s practice at Baruch University in Manhattan. Berger talks to Matthews about not making the All-Star Game ballot, the freedom of playing in Terry Stotts’ system, the “bump in the road” the team is currently going through and proving he was worth the contract the Trail Blazers gave him back in 2010.
But the best part is Matthews discussing what drives him. Wes is one of those guys who will take
anything as a slight and use it to motivation, but he tells Berger that there’s a misconception when it comes to the reason for that motivation …
Q: You kind of play with a chip on your shoulder anyway, like you have something to prove. But is that even more so now when you’ve been left off the All-Star team?
A: You already know the answer to that.
Q: How does that play into your preparation and your mindset when you go out and play?
A: It’s not even proving anybody wrong, it’s proving those that believe in me right. Being undrafted, being overlooked coming out of high school, I was overlooked in college and always had that edge. I was like that bratty kid who had to learn how to grow up and that’s how I continue to play.
That’s a good perspective, one that everyone could apply to their own lives.
Berger also has a story up about LaMarcus Aldridge if you’d like to read once again about his frustration last summer and why he no longer feels the same way today.
Wesley Matthews isn’t going to beg the NBA to be one of the six players selected for this year’s Foot Locker Three-Point Contest at the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. In fact, he’s not even going to ask.
But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t accept an invitation. Actually, quite the opposite. Matthews, who is currently fifth in three-pointers made this season with 96, would very much like an opportunity to compete in the three-point contest on Feb. 15.
“It would be an honor to represent my family, friends, Portland,” said Matthews. “But in the meantime, all I’m worried about is helping my team win as many games as I can up until that point.”
One of the reasons the Trail Blazers have been able to win so many games this season is because of Matthews’ three-point shooting. Though he’s cooled off considerably since shooting a ridiculous 52 percent from three in the month of November, Matthews is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc this season, good enough for 16th in the NBA and better than the likes of Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Matt Bonner, Ryan Anderson and Stephen Curry, all of whom competed in the three-point shootout last
Even factoring in regression, Matthews is still one of the best three-point shooters this season by most any metric.
“That’s not for me to say, not for me to judge,” said Matthews when asked if he deserves to compete in this year’s contest. “I’m not really the type to advertise myself, but if the play speaks for itself, then that’s fine. If not, that’s fine, too.”
He’s shooting above the league average in four of the five three-point “zones” (as seen in the shot chart above) and has been one the best shooters from the corners this season at 43 percent from the right corner and a blistering 47 percent from the left corner. He’s second in the NBA in corner threes made with 39 and tenth in corner three percentage at 45 percent (minimum 20 corner threes made).
Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland.com, has gone so far as to say that Matthews is “arguably the best shooter in the league this year” from the left corner, and since two of the five shooting stations in the three-point contest
are in the corners, one could argue that Matthews’ game is better equipped for the contest than players who shoot from the top of the key or “above the break” (though Matthews shoots a very respectable 40 percent from “above the break as well).
“I think the main thing they’ve got to do well is to make shots,” said Matthews, stating the obvious when asked what make a good three-point contest shooter. “I don’t know how my mechanics stack up. I’ve never been in a three-point contest before. I know I can get my shot off quick, I know I can make shots so I think I’d do alright.”
And since All-Star Weekend is as much about the spectacle as anything else, Matthews says he’d be willing to do what he could to add some intrigue to a contest that doesn’t afford itself to free-styling.
“If I got it going, when I got to the last rack, I think I’d do a stepback,” said Matthews That’s something I would do, just for the hell of it.”
He’s shooting 60 percent on stepback three-pointers this season, so it might not be such a bad idea anyway.
Considering that Portland is first in three-pointer made per game, basically tied with San Antonio for first in team three-point percentage, and second per game in attempts, it’s only fair that at a Trail Blazer be one of the three representatives from the Western Conference in the three-point contest, especially considering their 28-9 record.
“I’d love for either (Matthews) or Damian (Lillard) to be in the three-point shooting contest,” said Terry Stotts, who would be the head coach of the Western Conference All-Star team if the decision were made today. “Our backcourt, both are in the top five in threes made. I think both guys are deserving to be in the three-point shooting contest.”
Lillard, who is first in the NBA in three-pointers made with 120 and seventh in three-point percentage at 44 percent, would certainly be a worthy entry. But he’s already scheduled to play in the Rookie/Sophomore game, has to defend his Taco Bells Skills Challenge crown and could very well end up being selected by NBA head coaches for the Western Conference All-Star roster. Throwing yet another event into that already packed schedule seems like a recipe for a poor showing.
Given that, it stands to reason that Matthews should have the honor of representing his family, friends and Portland in this year’s three-point shooting, even if he won’t campaign on his own behalf.