Tucker was an integral part to the Bucks' title run. He brought
value offensively as a screener, and, while his percentages were
below his norm, he still made timely shots from the corners. He
hummed around the dunker spot and gave Milwaukee extra possessions
on the glass — ask the Atlanta Hawks how the "Hide Trae Young on
Tucker" strategy worked for them.
More importantly, Tucker brought the goods defensively. His
value was two-fold. Even at his age, he was able to slither over
screens, slide with stars in space and hold his own when bigger
players attempted to post him up. The star assignments were almost
exclusively his to take. And because he took on those assignments,
guys like Giannis and Middleton didn't have to.
Tucker wasn't and isn't as important as those two, but his
departure to the Miami Heat — what a season he's had — left a bit of
The Bucks added Semi Ojeleye over the summer in hopes he could
provide similar impact. Maybe Thanasis Antetokounmpo, as the
endless ball of energy he is, could be enough of an irritant in
Neither thing happened.
They eventually went back to the veteran well on Dec. 3, signing
the well-traveled Wes Matthews to a deal. The thinking was clear:
We need a guy who can defend tough matchups and hit enough shots on
the other end to keep teams honest.
Fast forward to the postseason, and Matthews has done just
He's knocked down 44.1% of his threes on nearly 4 attempts this
postseason. He's been a help-off-him point for defenses much like
Tucker, but the two differ in their shot profiles. Over 80% of
Tucker's threes came from the corners last postseason; only 41.2%
of Matthews' triples have come in those pockets.
You can still stash him in the strong-side corner and dare teams
to help off of him there. You can still space him in the weak-side
corner, and have another player cut or set a pin-in screen to free
But because Matthews is better at — and more willing to
take — above-the-break threes, he's a little easier to move
around the chessboard. He can also chill above the break,
acting as the one-pass-away outlet on Giannis post-ups or
Defensively, it's hard not to marvel at the job Matthews has
done. This is a 35-year-old, who's suffered a torn Achilles in his
career, graciously taking on assignments like DeMar DeRozan, Zach
LaVine, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Despite being at a size disadvantage and athleticism
disadvantage, Matthews has been able to hold his own. He's proven
to be a high-level screen navigator at his big age, able to fight
through picks and reattach to a star's hip to bother him. Even when
he's hung up on a screen, he doesn't die. He finishes possessions
with rearview contests, or at the very least funnels his man into
Milwaukee's forest in the paint.
A drop-coverage scheme doesn't work without someone like
Matthews. Asking any big man, no matter how good he is, to deal
with elite scorers in space is typically unfair. Matthews is able
to make life easier for his bigs, much like their size acts as a
buffer in the event that Matthews gets beat.
It's been fun watching Matthews have to problem-solve in the
first two rounds. He got the DeRozan match-up in Round 1, which
meant dealing with the All-Star's superb footwork and herky-jerky
style. Nikola Vucevic is one of the NBA's best screeners, so
dealing with them in tandem is tough work.
Matthews had to fight over screens and duck under screens when
Chicago went to its Double Drag looks. He had to ICE screens —
attempting to keep the action on the sideline — while also worrying
about DeRozan snaking picks and getting into the mid-range area.
He's built the whole boat on mid-range buckets, so slowing him down
is a lot easier said than done.
Yet, Matthews did a darn good job. He faced 104 picks while
defending DeRozan in pick-and-roll, per Second Spectrum. The Bulls
generated 0.66 points per posssession (PPP) on those trips —
well below their regular-season mark (1.04 PPP).
The expectation has changed a bit during the second round. He's
gone from the guile and patience of DeRozan, to the more sudden and
explosive natures of Tatum and Brown. It's been mostly Tatum, whose
lack of comfort in the mid-range is countered by his willingness to
pull from deep, as well as his downhill aggression.
But again, Matthews has mostly held his own. Possessions
featuring Matthews defending a Tatum-led ball-screen have only
generated 0.77 PPP. This may shock you, but that number is also
below Boston's regular-season norms (1.00 PPP).
Overall, Matthews has defended 195 on-ball picks — the
fifth-highest mark of the postseason. He's one of 21 players to
defend at least 100 of them. Of those 21 players, only two — Marcus
Smart (119, 0.72 PPP) and Jae Crowder (115, 0.75 PPP) have allowed
fewer points per possession on direct plays than Matthews (0.85
Matthews is knocking down open shots from all over the floor.
He's taking on star wing assignments so Giannis doesn't have to.
He's also holding his own with said assignments.
Naturally, the Bucks are having a good time with Matthews on the
In 259 minutes with Matthews on the floor, the Bucks have
outscored opponents by 8.4
points per 100 possessions. The defense is 2 points stingier with
Matthews on the floor; the offense is almost 4 points better,
thanks to pretty big gap in three-point shooting (37.6% with
Matthews on, 30.7% with Matthews off).
In summation: Matthews deserves his flowers.