Wesley Matthews Claims He's the 'Best Two-Way' Shooting Guard in the NBA

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 14, 2014

PORTLAND, OR - OCTOBER 9:  Wesley Matthews #2 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates during the game against the Utah Jazz on October 9, 2014 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Entering the last season of his current contract with the Portland Trail Blazers, Wesley Matthews is brimming over with confidence. 

The shooting guard is coming off a season in which his perimeter shooting and defensive prowess fit in perfectly with the rest of the Blazers, helping them get off to a roaring start and still earn the No. 4 record in the brutal Western Conference despite cooling off during the stretch run. Matthews, then in his fifth season since leaving Marquette and going undrafted, averaged a career-best 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.2 blocks per game. 

On the heels of that performance and while gearing up for another standout go-round, he's not exactly afraid of claiming what he feels is his rightful spot among the pack of 2-guards in the NBA

"Do I think I'm All-Defense? Absolutely. I think I'm the best two-way 2-guard in the NBA," Matthews told Erik Gundersen of The Columbian. "But I feel like we need to be a good defensive team within the scheme of the game. We're not out there gambling, trying to reach and get steals. That would put us in a bind if I don't get it."

There's no doubt that Matthews is a great player on both ends of the court. 

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May 12, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) raises three fingers after scoring a three-point field goal against San Antonio Spurs in the first half in game four of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda
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Offensively, he's a key contributor for Rip City, particularly because of his work from beyond the arc. During the 2013-14 campaign, he took 6.2 shots per game from downtown and made them at a 39.3 percent clip. Those are marks that, according to Basketball-Reference.com, were matched or exceeded by only five other qualified players, regardless of position—Stephen Curry, Gerald Green, Damian Lillard, J.R. Smith and Klay Thompson. 

On the other end of the floor, his impact is a bit harder to quantify. 

The Blazers actually allowed 0.6 more points per 100 possessions when Matthews was on the court last season, and that doesn't seem to be an aberration. In 2012-13, Portland's defense gave up an additional 3.4 points over the same span when he was playing. Hard as it may be to believe given his stellar reputation, Matthews has only had a positive on/off defensive impact twice during his five NBA seasons. 

82games.com tells a tale that falls more in line with Matthews' claim, though. During this past go-round, he held opposing 2-guards to a player efficiency rating of just 12.9, a mark well below the league average of 15. 

May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) defends Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) in the first half in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-US
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"I'm never going to be the type that gets gaudy numbers to make an All-Defensive team," the Portland shooting guard also explained to Gundersen, and that's a key point. Matthews is a selfless team defender, and that doesn't always allow him to shine as an individual, even if he passes the eye test with flying colors, most of which are red, black, silver and white. 

But what about his claim? Is he really the best two-way 2-guard in the Association? 

Well, what does that even mean? Every single shooting guard plays both ends of the court, even if they aren't particularly good at either offense or defense. 

If you're looking for a true two-way player, you have to turn to a sport like football, one in which the vast majority of players don't physically line up on both sides of the ball. Charles Woodson during his Michigan days stands out as a great example, as he primarily played cornerback but also returned kicks and occasionally lined up as a wide receiver. 

So, does Matthews mean he's the best shooting guard in the NBA?

I hope not, or else plenty of players should come running to their own defenses. When I ranked the league's best at that position in mid-September, Matthews received an honorable mention, and he's simply not close to being in the same tier as James Harden, Dwyane Wade, a healthy Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan or Monta Ellis. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 7: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Dallas Mavericks on October 7, 2014 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
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By this definition, isn't Harden the league's best two-way 2-guard?

He might avoid playing defense on many possessions (though his negative reputation has grown too much and doesn't give him enough credit for the trips down the court where he commits himself), but he still maintains a physical presence on both ends of the floor. His offense is more than good enough to trump his defensive deficiencies. 

Even if Matthews means that he's the best shooting guard who excels on both sides, his statement is still an inaccurate one. DeRozan, Arron Afflalo, Lance Stephenson—who Gundersen discounts for "on-court behavior"—and Klay Thompson all have better arguments. 

There's no doubt Matthews is moving up the ranks of players at his position, something he'll continue to do during this contract season, hopefully while shedding the underrated tag that he deserves to carry right now. Portland is set to continue doing the same in the West, and this particular shooting guard will inevitably play a large part in that quest for the top of the 2014-15 standings. 

Maybe he'll eventually get to the top of the shooting guard heap, but he's not there yet. No matter how you define two-way 2-guards, he's still got some catching up to do.