2011 Expectations: Wesley Matthews

In case you missed it at contract-signing time...Welcome, Wesley Matthews!  We're glad to have you as a Portland Trail Blazer.  We all raise a glass of whatever to toast what could be among the most underrated acquisitions of the summer.  Cheers!  Applause!  Huzzah!

Now let's get to work.

It's tricky to balance expectations for a guy who's been in the league but one year, came from a stylized system, and made his popular bones during a brief playoff run.  I'm a basketball geek.  I'm more likely to get excited over a guy like Matthews than I would be if the Blazers had signed, say, Vince Carter or Amare Stoudemire, either of whom would have made me groan inwardly had they joined the team.  But I also like to see what a guy is going to put out in a particular environment over the course of a few months, if not a couple years, before I'm ready to declare him the next coming of anything or even get overly excited about his potential impact.  This is particularly so with players in their first and second seasons.  There are exceptions.  I hearted Brandon Roy's game the second I saw him go to work.  But Matthews is not Brandon Roy.

The truth is, we don't know what Matthews can or should bring in this environment on this roster with these kind of aims and goals.  He might have to fill in 30 minutes a game because someone is injured.  He might be the most valuable 10 minute player in the league.  He might be a complete, albeit somewhat expensive, non-factor because everyone ahead of him is just that good.  Expecting A when B is the right move for the team sets everybody up for failure.  So instead of actual expectations I'll list what I like about Wesley Matthews and what I hope he can bring to the team.

The A-number-one super-sized reason I'm excited to see Matthews in a Portland uniform is defense.  Along with the acquisition of Marcus Camby and the roster-clearing for Nicolas Batum, Matthews' signing sends a clear message that the Blazers are entering a phase where defensive improvement is the top priority.  Though most will bemoan the parsimonious offensive approach, that's adaptable.  If the Blazers need to score more they can.  The offense has been on such a tight rein up until now because that was required to cover for lack of defensive acumen.  A guy like Matthews can change that.  He has the potential to guard opposing stars.  He has the savvy and apparently the desire to work at team defense as well.  Defense should be his badge of honor, the reason he made bank.  It should be his foundational identity.  That makes him different than any other Blazer wing.  Even Nicolas Batum could be deemed a star-in-waiting who can also defend.  Only Matthews qualifies as the defensive glue guy.  How many times have Portland fans prayed for this over the last four years?  Matthews ought to give his best shot to answering those prayers.

I'm excited about Matthews because he's a defensive guy who can also shoot from distance and for percentage.  The guy's efficient for a shooting guard/small forward.  Not wasting shots is one of the chief tenets of Portland's offense.  He'll fit in fine that way.

I'm excited because Wesley Matthews appears to be a person of character.  I don't expect him to be perfect, high on a squeaky-clean pedestal.  But so far he's said the right things about working hard, proving himself, and this being a team game.

The latter, especially, is important because this was not a superstar, nor even a long-minute generalist, signing.  Matthews hasn't shown the all-around offensive game that would make him a likely candidate for a starting spot, particularly given the incumbents in those positions.  He's going to be the Blazers' secret weapon, not their nuclear weapon.  He's the touch and technique that elevates the dish to haute cuisine status, not the main ingredient in bold on the menu.  I do not expect Matthews to make a difference, particularly in his first season, that leaves casual fans across the league in awe.  I expect him to be a basketball guy's player...the kind who makes wonks nod and smile because they seem smart when they mention him.  He'll be the guy who proves that not every important minute is a starter's minute.

If he can manage that much--a lot of defense, a little shooting, a ton of heart displayed during whatever minutes he gets--Matthews will receive a standing ovation from Portland fans...well-deserved at that.

What do you expect from Wesley Matthews in his first year as a Blazer?  Share below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com) 

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