The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 44 | Wesley Matthews
Games Played with Blazers: 359 Regular Season, 17 Postseason
*PTS: 15.4 | STL: 1.2 | FG%: 43.8 | 3PT%: 39.4
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: July 2010, signed as free agent
Departed Club: July 2015, departed via free agency
Place in History: What were the Blazers doing signing a shooting guard in the Summer of 2010? They had Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, and Jerryd Freakin’ Bayless already. Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum were ready to man the small forward positions, so they couldn’t stash another wing there. Didn’t they have something better to do than offer a five-year, $34 million contract to a Utah Jazz restricted free agent?
“Hold up” said new General Manager Rich Cho, “You’re going to like the way this guy competes and defends.”
I know, but knees, and shhhh.
Just did. Traded him to New Orleans.
(sigh) Ok. But this better work.
Spoiler Alert: it did.
The player who might have been viewed as a redundant extravagance became one of the most hard-working and beloved guards in franchise history.
Wesley Matthews could defend. He wasn’t your Stacey Augmon, “come-out-of-nowhere to obliterate shots” defender. He was more like the, “don’t worry, I got this” guy. You didn’t notice him, but players trying to score against him did.
Wesley Matthews could shoot from deep. He followed up his 38% on 2.0 attempts from distance as a rookie with 41% on 4.6 attempts during his first year with the Blazers. He never looked back after that, averaging 39.4% from the arc during his entire Portland run.
Shooting threes and playing defense. Shooting threes and playing defense. If only they had a phrase for that. Oh well, I’m sure somebody, somewhere will value that skill set.
As it turned out, Roy would play in 47 games during 2010-11, starting only 23. The superstar’s knees and magic were gone. Meanwhile Matthews showed up every night. He played all 82, starting in 69 while averaging 34 minutes per game. He just never quit.
That first season, Matthews’ shooting was the only floor spacing the Blazers had for LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Miller, and Wallace. Patty Mills was the next player below Wes on the three-point chart, and he only averaged 35%. The rest of the team was...much worse.
The situation didn’t improve the next year, as Portland brought in Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford. Nicolas Batum joined Matthews in the three-point-shooting club, but everybody else in the regular rotation stunk to high heaven beyond the arc.
In 2012-13 things began to click. A brand new point guard named [checks notes] Damian Lillard came on board. He shot threes. Lots of them. Just like Batum and Matthews. All of a sudden, the starting lineup of Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge-[Insert Center Here] became a thing. The Blazers would win only 33 that season, but the year following they jumped to 54, made the playoffs, and advanced to the second round. It looked like they had a winner. Along with the suddenly-consistent Aldridge, Matthews was at the core of it.
In 2014-15, the Blazers fielded what many consider to be their best lineup of the decade, consisting of the stable four starters, plus Robin Lopez at center. Chris Kaman, Allen Crabbe, Steve Blake, and a young CJ McCollum provided support off the bench. They were 41-19 after 60 games, working on a five-game winning streak, when Matthews tore his Achilles.
It’s worth noting that the Blazers had traded Will Barton (along with other assets) for veteran guard Arron Afflalo to provide extra depth at shooting guard that year. It’s worth noting that Aldridge and Lillard still played after Matthews went down. Nicolas Batum? Still there. Robin Lopez? Still there. The supporting cast? Still there. That didn’t end up mattering. When Matthews was unable to play, it all went to heck. The Blazers lost in convincing—maybe embarrassing—fashion to the Memphis Grizzlies and their year was done.
The Blazers were unable to compensate for Matthews’ injury due to the valuable synergy that starting group possessed. Matthews’ own talent and skill played a huge part, though. His absence was like returning to your childhood home, but your mom is not there anymore. The walls and windows look identical. You can walk right into your room, even. It’s just not the same. You’re not even missing specific, spectacular moments with mom. The house isn’t right without the consistency of love, pancakes on Saturday morning, and the feeling that someone was always there for you. That’s what Wesley Matthews brought to the Blazers for five seasons.
The Blazers lost Matthews in the Summer of 2015 the same way they had gained him in 2010: somebody offered him a better deal. McCollum and Crabbe were ready to take over in Portland and the Blazers just weren’t ready to risk big dollars on a speculative recovery process. They got Gerald Henderson to come in for a veteran bench role and called it good.
Somehow, though, it wasn’t quite as good. Though they’d beat a ravaged Clippers squad in the first round that season, it would be four more years before the Blazers would make any claim to playing basketball as beautiful and competent as they did when Matthews roamed the floor. They just couldn’t replace what Wesley gave them.
For the shooting and defense, for being Iron Man, and for providing plenty of wins from what was ultimately a support position, Wesley Matthews gets the 44th spot in our countdown of Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Share your memories of Wesley Matthews here, and stick with us as we continue marching towards the #1 spot!