Milwaukee Bucks: Why Wesley Matthews has lived up to expectations

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 22 (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 22 (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /
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The timing of Wesley Matthews’ Milwaukee Bucks homecoming couldn’t have worked out better and it’s played a part in why he has been able to play up to preseason expectations.

Timing is everything and that certainly proves to be the case for Wesley Matthews‘ stint with the Milwaukee Bucks.

No decision in the Bucks’ offseason last summer was more polarizing than the decision to part ways with dynamic guard Malcolm Brogdon, who essentially swapped places with Matthews following his sign-and-trade deal with the Indiana Pacers.

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Matthews was more just a piece in the puzzle to find ways to replace Brogdon’s services and opening up a pathway for the Bucks’ incumbent wings or off-ball guards, such as Donte DiVincenzo, minutes in the team’s rotation under head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The same logic can be applied to how Matthews helped unlock the core pieces in the Bucks’ starting lineup.

Certainly, Matthews’ floor spacing and streaky long range shooting are just basic necessities to give the likes of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe the space they need to drive relentlessly to the basket.

But it was Matthews’ defensive prowess and versatility that may have given Bucks All-Star swingman Khris Middleton the breathing room he needed to craft the career year he was enjoying before the season stoppage.

Whereas Middleton was previously tasked with having to defend bigger wing players while also having to deliver the same smooth, methodical scoring to fill around the games of Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe, Matthews’ presence eased Middleton’s burden on the defensive side of the ball.

Instead, it was Budenholzer trusting Matthews to take a variety of defensive assignments, whether it was checking three-level scorers such as James Harden, Jayson Tatum or trying to slow down forces like superstar LeBron James and players of that ilk.

That, in turn, freed up Middleton to focus his energy elsewhere, act as a more versatile team defender and take on a bigger role within the Bucks’ offense as he logged a 25.9 usage percentage, per NBA.com/stats. That’s the highest mark of the forward’s eight-year career.

To say the less is more approach that centered around Matthews’ role within the Bucks’ system wouldn’t be quite accurate, given the caliber of defensive assignments he would take on in high-profile matchups, something that would grow more important if and whenever the postseason would be played when things return back to normal.

But what Matthews’ presence did was recalibrate the Bucks’ offense and make more defined roles for others in ways that weren’t there during the 60-win season the previous year. With a clearer picture and order in their foundation, Matthews’ straightforward 3-and-D skill set on the wing helped fortify was already a strength of the Bucks’ even further.

That certainly helped the Bucks’ regular starting lineup compile the best net rating of five-man units that have shared the floor together for at least 350 minutes this season. And all of Milwaukee’s top six players in terms of minutes played, which obviously includes Matthews, rank at the top of the NBA in terms of individual defensive rating.

With the coronavirus pandemic having shut down the season for the time being and with no clear end in sight, one can only wonder just how might have Matthews continue to function within his role for the Bucks and as the trajectory of the franchise lies in their playoff performance.

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Our new normal may not give Matthews the storybook ending he sought in his homecoming to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin, but it’s clear he has left his mark on the Bucks in ways that elevated their play higher than the standard they set last year.