Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are unquestionably the Trail Blazers’ biggest stars.
But we’re going to see just how pivotal Wesley Mathews is to Portland, especially its impressive offensive spacing.
Matthews might not belong in the elite class of 3-point shooters with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver. But Matthews is the best outside shooter outside that top tier. Only he, Curry and Korver have shot above 38 percent 3-pointers while making at least one per game each of the last five seasons.
Matthews is nearly as reliable as it gets from beyond the arc.
And for Portland, he’s the only player who comes close to fitting that description.
There are 81 players in the NBA who’ve played at least 20 games, made at least one 3-pointer per game and are shooting at least league average (34.7 percent) from downtown. Matthews is the only Trail Blazer.
Despite this, Portland ranks 10th in points per possession.
The Trail Blazers don’t offensively rebound particularly well, and they’re even worse at getting to the free-throw line. They just spread the floor so they can pass cleanly and make open shots.
To do that, they needed Matthews to draw defenders to the perimeter.
The only other other teams with only one player on the above list – Nuggets (24th in points per possession), Timberwolves (26th), Knicks (29th) and Jazz (15th) – have struggled to form quality offenses with so few traditional floor spacers. Even teams with two players on the list – Celtics (21st), Nets (22nd), Hornets (28th), Pacers (25th) and Grizzlies (11th) – have mostly struggled offensively.
And now Portland proceeds with no healthy qualifying players.
Terry Stotts has his work cut out to overcome that disadvantage, but his task is not impossible.
Matthews was just one piece of the floor-spacing puzzle.
Aldridge is an elite mid-range shooter. What Lillard lacks in efficiency on 3-pointers (a very reasonable 33.9 percent) he more than makes up for in volume (2.4 makes per game). Nicolas Batum is a skilled playmaker. Robin Lopez sets excellent screens, springing others free.
And Mathews’ certain replacement in the starting lineup, Arron Afflalo (1.5 3-pointers made per game, 34.0 3-point percentage this season), can play a similar role to his predecessor. Afflalo’s outside shooting has disturbingly fluctuated the last few years, but he has more good seasons than bad under his belt.
Solid 3-point shooters Steve Blake (0.9, 34.6) and Dorell Wright (0.8, 37.8) could also play more. Lineups featuring Blake and Lillard have fared particularly well offensively, as the point guards provide 3-point shooting and ball movement.
Several factors have contributed to Portland’s floor spacing. Matthews’ 3-point shooting is only one, but a big one. Unfortunately, we’ll find out just how big.