In their quest for a successful title defense in the 2020-21 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers fortified their roster by signing Wesley Matthews, an 11-year veteran known for his steady shooting from deep and significant experience on the floor.
It’s inevitable that Matthews will be compared to Danny Green. Though they weren’t swapped for one another, Matthews will still be seen as Green’s replacement as the Lakers’ veteran swingman. While the two are more different than similar, it’s necessary to compare the two to see how Matthews will fill in the spot left by Green.
Here are three bold predictions for Wesley Matthews in his first season with the Lakers.
3. Matthews back to double-digit points average
Last year, in his lone season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Wesley Matthews averaged a career-low in points with 7.5 a game. He also made just 1.6 3-pointers, the lowest since his second year in the league when he knocked down 1.9 3-pointers per contest. While some may see this as a decline in Matthews’ game, one also has to consider the role he played with the Bucks to get the full picture.
Yes, Matthews was a designated 3-pointer for the Bucks. His main role was to space-out the floor to allow Giannis Antetokounmpo to pummel the defense. And if the opposing team collapses on the Greek Freak, the ideal scenario would be for Antetokounmpo to kick it out to Matthews and swish — an automatic 3-pointer. However, Matthews attempted just 4.4 3-pointers last season — his second career-low.
The main difference is pretty obvious: the Bucks don’t have LeBron James, arguably one of the greatest passers that the NBA has ever seen. James’ former and current teammates have said it time and time again: if you’re open, you better be ready to shoot. That’s because James will always find you.
As such, there’s a good chance that Matthews will be back to his career average of 13.1 points per game. He will also be back to knocking down at least two 3-pointers per contest. Most of it will be coming from the short corners where he shot an elite 42.3 percent clip last season.
2. An uptick in LeBron James’ assists in the playoffs
In the 2019-20 regular season, LeBron James led the league in assists for the first time in his career with 10.2 per game. Close to 30 percent of James’ dishes went to Anthony Davis. In the playoffs, James dished out 8.8 assists per game. This dip was expected since defenses are much more sophisticated come playoff time.
Statistically, Danny Green is the better shooter with a career clip of 40 percent from deep as opposed to Matthews’ 38.1 percent. But as Lakers’ fans saw in the playoffs, Green struggled with just a 33.9 percent clip from deep. Even with tighter defenses, Green was still presented with lots of open opportunities to swish those 3-pointers.
As for Matthews, he shot at a decent 39.5 percent from 3-point country. Of course, Green played many more games and took many more shots since the Lakers made it all the way to the NBA Finals. But Matthews’ higher shooting percentage suggests that he made the most with the opportunities he was given, which, compared to Green, was minuscule.
And James, who’s now the primary playmaker with Rondo out, will find Matthews camping on the short corners more often than not. And there’s a very good possibility that James’ assists numbers will experience a little uptick, if not fall within the 8-9 band in the playoffs.
1. Early struggles on defense
To be fair with Green, he mightily made up for his struggles on offense by being a consistent contributor on the defensive end of the floor.
A member of the 2017 All-NBA Defensive Second Team, Green had a defensive rating of 101.8 in the NBA Finals which led the team. He also had a net rating of 15.8 in the playoffs which also led the Lakers. In the regular season, he had a defensive rating of 114.1, which makes him one of the best defenders on the team.
Matthews doesn’t have such numbers to boast. In fact, the Bucks’ defensive rating plummeted to 104.1 from 98.3 when Matthews was on the floor. While analysts have tagged Matthews as a 3-and-D player, he’s not actually a stellar defender like Green. As such, Lakers fans should expect a rather weak defensive stance from the 34-year-old. But given that Frank Vogel is a defense-first type of coach, Matthews will likely catch up to speed.
While it’s unlikely that he’ll make a defensive impact like Green, expect Matthews to improve as the season progresses.