When it comes to deciding which players should make up the sophomore squad for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge And Youth Jam (known hereafter simply as the Rookie/Sophomore game), Wesley Matthews' resume speaks for itself.
Among his second-year peers, Matthews is first in three-pointers made at 86, second in scoring at 16.1 points per game, second in free-throws attempted (184) and made (154), fourth in free-throw percentage (84%), fourth in steals per game at 1.26, fifth in minutes per game at 33.1 and sixth in three-point shooting percentage (38%). He’s got the kind of game that is uncommon for a second-year player, and an undrafted player at that.
But that’s kind of the problem for Matthews, at least as it pertains to making the sophomore squad. He acts and plays so much like a seasoned veteran that the assistant coaches whose votes decide the rookie/sophomore rosters might forget that Wesley is only one season removed from a four-year career at Marquette. After all, a few of Matthews’ teammates have been known to make the same mistake, and they see the guy every day.
“(LaMarcus Aldridge) forgot I was a second-year guy,” said Matthews. “I pride myself on not looking like a rookie or a second-year guy. I didn't think I looked like a rookie last year.”
Not to mention he wasn’t a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers last year, which is one of the reasons why Aldridge, who is also waiting to hear what he’ll be doing All-Star weekend, sometimes forgets that his fellow starter is still in just his second season.
“(Matthews) wasn't here as a rookie so that's why I forget he's a sophomore sometimes,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s All-Star fate will be determined on Thursday. “But he doesn't play like a sophomore; he plays bigger than a sophomore. He plays like he's been in the league three or four years. He plays confident and he plays with heart.”
Those two traits, along with a healthy dose of maturity rarely seen out of a second-year player, are the primary reasons Matthews has been able to make it in the NBA despite being passed over by every team in the NBA, twice. Those traits are also why Matthews is all but a lock to spend All-Star weekend in Los Angeles.
But should he? Some have argued that the Trail Blazers would be better served if all their players, be it Matthews or Aldridge, spend three days resting rather than practicing and playing, even in games that make exhibition matches look like Game 7s. Matthews has been nursing an ankle injury and is averaging 37.2 minutes per game since joining the starting lineup, but neither of those issues are enough to dissuade Wesley.
“I don't think there are too many people who wouldn't want to be a part of All-Star Weekend,” said Matthews. “Outside of the championship, it's the biggest event for our sport. A huge collection of talent in one spot, and to be invited, to be a part of that talent, it's a great accomplishment.”
Matthews will know soon enough whether he has achieved that accomplishment, but until then, Wesley says he’ll keep doing the things that have him in the running for a spot at All-Star weekend.
Said Matthews: “I can only control myself. I can't control what other players are doing, can't control what other coaches are thinking. I just play basketball and hopefully that's enough.”