Wesley Matthews: A Deserving All-Star
By Brian Wheeler
I confess that I didn’t know a whole lot about Wesley Matthews when the Blazers signed him to a free agent offer sheet over the summer. Oh, I knew that he had surprised a lot of people by not only making Utah’s roster as an undrafted free agent last season, but also cracking their rotation, and even stepping into a starting role when their regular players were hurt. And he never missed a beat when doing so, and by the end of his rookie season, was probably one of their unsung heroes.
Clearly, the Blazers’ scouts knew what they were getting as they had more than a few NBA experts scratching their heads when Wesley received his offer sheet. Many felt the Blazers had overspent, but they obviously knew what they were doing as they structured a contract that the Jazz chose not to match. If Utah had done so, Matthews would have gone back to the Jazz since he was a restricted free agent and the team could have matched any offer he got from another club. Once they declined that opportunity, Matthews became a Trail Blazer.
What struck me first about Wesley was his initial press conference in Portland. A lot of teams hesitate to give a player a big-money deal for fear that guy won’t feel the need to work as hard as he did to get the contract in the first place once he knows he has guaranteed dollars coming his way. But Wesley said the contract wouldn’t change him. He said the money was for his family. He was just happy about the security it brought him, knowing he’d be playing in the same city for the foreseeable future. He even said the contract wouldn’t change his work ethic at all, and that he’d be back in the gym the very night of the press conference doing what he needed to do to get better as a player. I was impressed to say the least, and I hadn’t even seen Wesley score his first basket as a Blazer.
Once the season rolled around, it became apparent the Blazers had gotten themselves a steal. Wesley was as good as advertised, if not better. Determined and driven on the court, he was humble as could be off it, which immediately endeared him to Blazers’ fans, who know a good work ethic when they see one, not to mention a good person.
Wesley quickly became popular with his teammates, and didn’t play like a guy who felt like he had to justify his free agent contract. And when Brandon Roy was hampered with injuries, all of a sudden Matthews became a more important figure with this Blazers’ team. Instead of being a complimentary 6th man, he was thrust into the starting lineup. But just as he had done to cover for injured players last season in Utah, he was more than up to the challenge of repeating the feat with his new team.
And now the NBA world has taken notice. The same experts that felt the Blazers overpaid for Matthews back in the summer are now calling his signing one of the best of the offseason. And why not? Wesley has played in every game for the Blazers, and has made the sting of losing Brandon for an extended period a little less painful. And he leads all 2nd-year players in the NBA in 3-pt. field goals made, while ranking 2nd in scoring in that group, and 2nd in free throws made. Not bad for a guy that nobody wanted to draft when he first came out of Marquette.
So as we look ahead to All-Star Weekend, let’s applaud the great accomplishments of 1st-year Blazer, Wesley Matthews. He’ll be in the Rookie Challenge playing for the sophomore team on Friday the 18th. But I bet the All-Star trip won’t change him. He’ll probably be back at the Blazers’ practice facility on Monday the 21st working on his game. It’s just what he does, and it’s just who he is.