Why Wesley Matthews could be an X-factor for the Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 28 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 28 (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

Since signing with the Milwaukee Bucks in early December, Wesley Matthews has been a staple in coach Mike Budenholzer’s rotation. Though Matthews has not put up the flashiest numbers or taken Milwaukee’s bench to new heights, the journeyman has been a welcoming addition due to his reputable 3-and-D presence. As the regular season nears an end and the Bucks begin to gear up to defend their title in the playoffs, Matthews could potentially be an X-factor for this squad.

Looking at Wesley Matthews’ importance for the Milwaukee Bucks

It has been said countless times since Matthews signed with the Bucks, but he is the player that is the most capable of filling the “P.J. Tucker role” from last postseason.

Tucker was traded to Milwaukee at the deadline last season to shore up their defense and add a solid 3-point shooter to the roster. Tucker ultimately ended up playing a larger role than expected as he started in Milwaukee’s final 19 playoff games after Donte DiVincenzo went down with what was a season-ending injury. Tucker gave the Bucks everything he had by embracing the toughest defensive assignments nightly en route to the team’s first title in over 50 years.

With the front office controversially opting to let Tucker go in free agency, the Bucks have been looking for a replacement, and Matthews might be their best bet. After all, coach Budenholzer has essentially been utilizing Matthews in this exact role since he first came aboard.

The 35-year-old Matthews has often been tasked with matching up against reputable scorers on the other side of the basketball, and he has some eye-catching numbers to show his impact when doing so. According to NBA.com/stats, a few of Matthews’ best defensive performances this year include holding All-Star guard LaMelo Ball to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting with two turnovers, keeping Devin Booker in check by surrendering just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, and perhaps his most notable, holding Kevin Durant to six points on 3-of-7 shooting.

While matchup data can sometimes be flawed, there is no denying that Matthews has proven that he can be a pest defensively against star players. The veteran is a strong, sturdy, and battle-tested defender that is willing to leave it all out on the floor each and every night. Once the playoffs begin in the coming weeks, having Matthews defensively will be a huge lift for the defending champs on a game-to-game basis. Having Matthews out on the floor to guard an opposing star wing such as Durant could alleviate pressure off of Milwaukee’s other defensive aces in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday.

Tucker proved to be a difference-maker in last season’s thrilling second round series against the Brooklyn Nets by hounding Durant for seven consecutive games. If Milwaukee happens to meet Brooklyn in the postseason once again, they will certainly look to implement that same strategy, but with Matthews this time around. The same goes for if the Bucks meet DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls, Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, or any of the other contenders across the association. If Matthews is able to hold his own against these stars on the defensive end, it could make a significant difference for the Milwaukee Bucks.

While his defensive presence will be pivotal in any potential playoff scenario, Matthews also has a chance to make an impact offensively if he can knock down his perimeter shots. The 12-year NBA veteran is currently having his least efficient 3-point shooting season to date by knocking down a subpar 32.4 percent from behind the arc on 3.3 attempts per game. His contributions defensively will be more important than on offense, but if Matthews could also find a groove from the outside while holding up on the other end, it would help tremendously.

To be clear, Matthews and Tucker are not the same player. None of this is to compare which of the two is the better player, but rather to look at their similar attributes on how one could help a team in their quest to repeat as champions. If Matthews is able to play robust defense against reputable offensive minds and hit the occasional 3-pointer throughout the playoffs, he could potentially be a player that proves to be an X-factor for the Milwaukee Bucks. Matthews’ defense alone will earn him meaningful playing time in the postseason, but some passable shooting on top of it could be a sizeable boost for the Bucks.

The Wisconsin native is certainly more than motivated for the opportunity to help the Bucks as they make a run at another championship, and he will be a key piece to their success.

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Milwaukee’s mid-season addition of Matthews may end up paying dividends down the road.