(“The Gallery” is an end-of-season series featuring one uniquely titled picture or video installation for every player that best summarizes or encapsulates that player’s season in a single snapshot. These aren’t highlights, they’re seminal moments expressed through the medium of art placards. Enjoy your tour!
Shooting Guard, Age 32
Indiana Pacers versus Dallas Mavericks, February 27
American Airlines Center
In Depth, Matthews showcases what made him an attractive get on the buyout market for a team transitioning to more of an inside-out attack in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury.
Standing nearly six feet beyond the 3-point line, the nine-year veteran’s reputation for pulling the string from deep put increased tension on Luka Doncic as the digger. Reluctant to stray too far from home, the Rookie of the Year front-runner isn’t committing to the double-team, nor is he jumping in-and-out of the lane in an effort to keep Myles Turner off-balance. Heck, he isn’t even extending his left hand out as a distraction. Why? Because Matthews has increased the amount of steps that he’ll have to take to recover on a potential kick-out. Dwight Powell ultimately ends up bumping Myles Turner off the block and encouraging him to make a quick pitch to the post feeder, and Doncic still has to reach to get a hand in the face of his former teammate, who cans the three from 29 feet.
“After the injury (Mavericks assistant coach God Shammgod) and I worked on shooting threes deeper to have that become more of a rhythm for me, and a routine and a habit to extend my range,” Matthews told the Dallas media during training camp of how he adjusted his game post-Achilles tear. “It helps me to get more open looks because guys will be hesitant to close out two, three feet behind the line. And it helps our spacing out as well.”
In 23 games with the Pacers, the off-ball scoring threat launched deep threes at a more frequent clip than ever before in his career, attempting more shots from in-between 25 and 29 feet (88) over that stretch than Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans combined (67).
The only problem was those shots, along with most of his other field goal attempts, stopped falling in the playoffs. After shooting a respectable (albeit somewhat inconsistent) 36 percent on deep threes during the regular season, the 32-year-old shot just 33 percent on threes of every distance against Boston and 30 percent from the floor overall.
Offensively, when he wasn’t connecting on shots off the catch from way downtown or making a quick cut to the rim off a split-cut, he was more or less out of his depth. His post-ups were unruly, scoring a measly 0.478 points per possession (3rd percentile), and his off-the-dribble forays were low in volume for good reason. On the season (accounting only for the games he played with Indiana), he shot 29 percent (10-of-34) on pull-up threes and 27 percent (19-of-70) on shots that came off of at least two dribbles.
Worse still, though, was that the Pacers didn’t more often look to use his off-ball movement as a decoy to free up Bogdanovic, particularly at the end of Game 2.
With the Celtics chasing Indiana’s leading scorer over screens and then switching defensive responsibilities once he cut middle, the Pacers could have countered by using Bogdanovic as the “supposed” first screener in a stagger for Matthews and then had him flip around and fly off the second screen for a clean shot, as opposed to playing hero-ball without a hero.
From passing and relocating to freeing himself as the screener, Matthews is a savvy floor spacer capable of defending multiple positions, and his signing sent a powerful message throughout the locker room that the front office was committed to winning; but, the fact remains that the team is short on shot-creators, of which he isn’t one.
As the title of this piece suggests, the depth he (sometimes) provided as a late-season addition may no longer be the sort of depth that the team prioritizes in free agency, especially if the aging long-range shooter remains intent on starting.
Thaddeus Young: The Sticking Point
Cory Joseph: It’s all in the Details
Alize Johnson: Rough around the Edges
Doug McDermott: The Invisible Man
Myles Turner: It’s a Two-way Street
Bojan Bogdanovic: The Imperfection
Victor Oladipo: Break in the Clouds