The Indiana Pacers didn’t make any league altering trades at the deadline but don’t overlook the coming addition of Wesley Matthews.
Matthews, who was traded to the New York Knicks earlier this week, agreed to a buyout and plans to sign with the Pacers for the veteran minimum once he clears waivers according to multiple media reports.
As with any midseason addition to a group with great chemistry, it’s always important to consider how someone will fit in the locker room. Matthews seems like an ideal culture fit that goes with the organization’s mantra of the 3Ts: toughness, togetherness and trust.
“Perfect pickup for us,” Thad Young told reporters after Thursday’s game. “… Most of all he brings toughness, a defensive mentality we need. He embodies what we do as a team. He has that Pacers spirit in him already.”
Matthews is well known to the Pacers coaching staff and front office as he played for the Blazers while Head Coach Nate McMillan and President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard were both still in Portland.
Doug McDermott was teammates with Matthews last season with the Mavericks and believes he’ll be a big part of the team and can help the Pacers on offense and defense.
“He’s just an all-around good player. A good vet who works extremely hard,” McDermott told Scott Agness of The Athletic of his former teammate in Dallas, “leads by example. Just a great player on both ends of the court.”
Matthews, 32, has been a starter for the vast majority of his career and likely chose Indiana over other suitors like Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City and others for the opportunity for a larger role. It’s easy to see him starting over Tyreke Evans fairly quickly, as Evans has struggled with consistency this season.
At this stage in his career, Matthews still adds a lot to the Pacers on the offensive end. One of the most fun parts of his game has always been his work in the post, which is uncommonly good for a shooting guard. He has an array of post moves that he likes to use and has a lot of success on the low block.
Efficiency-wise, Matthews ranks in the 59th percentile per Synergy on post-up plays which was his third most frequent play type with the Mavericks this season. The Pacers love to attack mismatches in the post in order to force a double team and get open looks or just to look for a bucket so look for them to use Matthews in this way often whenever he has a smaller guard defending him.
Matthews is also adept at running around screens for 3-pointers. He’s very good at moving without the ball and he ranks highly on plays coming off screens with 1.24 points per possession which puts him in the 94th percentile per Synergy. Coming from the Mavericks where McDermott also briefly spent time, you can see some similar plays that the Pacers use for Doug that they’ll be able to use for Wes.
Spot-up chances and coming off screens were the primary ways that Matthews was used in Dallas. He’s a long-distance sniper as a career 38% 3-point shooter that’s never had a season below 36%. Adding more shooting on the roster is always a good thing.
One thing that he does not do very well is run the pick and roll, ranking in the 11th percentile as the pick and roll ball handler per Synergy. Expect him to be a floor spacer and a guy that attacks mismatches in the post while being used in similar ways to Bogdanovic and McDermott while running off screens. But don’t expect him to be making a ton of plays for others.
For a look at detailed Xs and Os for how Wes Matthews can fit into the Pacers offense, check out Caitlin Cooper’s excellent piece at Indy Cornrows.
There are few negatives to this addition but the biggest one is that it takes away playing time from the kids: Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner.
Just as both were seeming to gain comfort and find a rhythm, it appears their time in the rotation will be over. Playing them would be a good idea for the future of the team, but counting on them this season was going to give inconsistent results as seen by the pair each scoring 17 points against the Lakers and then combining to go 2 for 14 from the field in the very next game against the Clippers.
You can certainly argue that the Pacers would be better served in the long run by playing these two consistent minutes for the rest of the season and that Indiana is likely to finish 5th in the East and struggle to get out of the first round with or without Wes Matthews.
Sumner is still expected to have his contract converted to the official NBA roster once his 45 2-way days run out, but it’s possible that they could keep him in Fort Wayne once he gets close in order to save some money and keep another roster spot open for flexibility. Pritchard said after Friday’s practice that he did not expect to sign anyone else off the buyout market, however.
The Pacers may have seen enough from the promising Holiday to feel comfortable giving him the backup point guard role next season, but he’s mostly played as a shooting guard on the offensive end in his rookie year. The more minutes and chances he gets to run an offense will allow for less on-the-job-training turnovers in the future.
Indiana though is still focused completely on winning as much as possible this season even with Victor Oladipo out. Pritchard had this to say about the trade deadline and possibly trading away some players but it applies to this situation as well.
“We want to compete. We’re in third place in the East right now,” Pritchard told reporters after Friday’s practice. “It would have been hard for me to walk into that locker room and say, ‘Guys, we’re going to trade four players and look to the future.’ That’s not fair to these guys.”
Indiana has been proving people wrong for the last two seasons, no reason to think they’d stop trying now, and moves like this only help players buy in to the team culture that they’ve quickly built.
Players appreciate the front office not throwing in the towel on the season after Oladipo’s injury and that kind of good karma with how they treat players can only help the organization’s reputation to potential free agent targets in the future.
Darren Collison’s comments in the video below resonate.
“We’re going to be tested in March,” Pritchard said of the team’s tough upcoming schedule. “But we’re going to be a playoff team and we’ll be a tough out in the playoffs.”