Apparently when Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he included a little-known rule that one member of the Los Angeles Lakers has to begin the season on an almost-ungodly cold-shooting stretch. Last year, it was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missing his first nine shots of the season, and this year it was 3-point specialist Wesley Matthews missing his first eight attempts from deep.
But while it would have been easy, and maybe even a little understandable, for Matthews to start to second-guess himself when he began in such a slump, he never did. He credits one of his former coaches as the reason why. He doesn’t remember which coach it was, but they told him not to look at the results of individual games, but to instead look at the season in five-game increments.
“It’s just law of averages. I wasn’t too worried about it,” Matthews explained. “You can’t just get too high on one game, too low on one game. And (the coach) said ‘whether it’s 0-8 or 6-6, five-game law of averages, that’s 6-14. You look at that, and just continue to build.’”
The words of Matthews’ unnamed coach proved prescient this season. As Matthews alluded to, he started the season 0-8 from deep in his first four games before going 6-6 in his fifth one, bringing his percentage to a totally respectable 42.8% over his first five games. If someone had told you that would be his average for the first five games of the season, any Lakers fan would have taken it.
In the six games since his four-game slump to start the year, Matthews has shot 6-6, 0-2, 4-6, 1-4, 1-5 and 4-8 from deep, respectively, which works out to 51.6% shooting from behind the arc over that stretch (Matthews sat out the team’s most recent win with right Achilles soreness). That’s scalding-hot shooting, even if — because of his streakiness from game-to-game — it won’t always feel like it. As Matthews said, though, that’s just the way math works, and the good news is that he says he’s starting to feel more comfortable with his role on the Lakers.
“That’s just how basketball works, that’s just how life works. The more you get comfortable, you settle in and all the work that you put in just starts to come full circle,” Matthews said. “I’ve just got to continue to build on everything. For me, I get activated in the game on the defensive end, so that’s what helps spur the offense. But obviously when you’ve got guys like ‘Bron finding you, the team looking for you, the coaching staff and your teammates with confidence in you, you continue to play the games.”
And to Matthews’ point, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says he never lost faith in his veteran shooter.
“He’s a good shooter,” Frank Vogel said, pausing to chuckle and smile at the premise of the question he was asked implying that he would have even remotely lost confidence in Matthews after four poor games. “I always believe the ball is going in when he shoots it. He didn’t start hot out of the gates, but it was never anything I was worried about. I think if we continue to work for shot quality, he’s going to knock down threes. He’s shown that throughout his career, so it’s just a matter of him getting quality shots.”
The Lakers have been working to get Matthews better looks, but just as important might be his adjustment process to coming off the bench. Matthews says that fellow veteran Markieff Morris has tried to help him get used to the differences between playing as a reserve after a long time playing almost exclusively as a starter, but Matthews has started 559 of the 561 games he’s played in over the last eight years of his career. Of course there was going to be a learning curve as he acclimated to the different rhythms of his new role.
“Absolutely, absolutely. You’ve been doing something one way for a decade, kind of getting used to that, you kind of develop habits, develop routines,” Matthews said. “I just take it all in stride. This year has been an unconventional year all across the board, so if there was a time to come off the bench, I think it would be now, where everything is an adjustment. Daily life is an adjustment, so it kind of just fits with the mold of how everything is going right now. You’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and this is just only going to make me better, and I’m ready for whenever my name is called, whatever it is.
“Like I’ve said a couple of times so far, I get myself going on the defensive end, so as a starter, obviously I’ve always been paired with whoever the best player on the other team is, so that already instantly engages me in the game,” Matthews continued. “Coming off the bench, it’s just finding different ways to stay engaged, stay ready, get my body ready, and most importantly I’m coming in guarding one of the top-two scorers, and they’ve already got a flow and they’ve already got their body going, and I’m fresh off the bench.”
Those are the kinds of things that those of us on the outside may not think about as much, but Matthews’ nuanced explanation does help explain why he may be a bit hot and cold.
“It’s mental, it’s physical, and it’s going to be an ongoing adjustment. That’s what it is right now,” Matthews said. “I’m here to do whatever this team needs, in whatever capacity, whatever role, I’m ready for whatever. It’s just a learning process, and it’s always easier to learn when you win.”
And as the law of averages his anonymous coach taught him about all those years ago bears out, Matthews is helping the Lakers do that. After a slow start, he’s regressing to the mean in a positive direction, and as he continues to get adjusted, that trend should continue.
We’ve just have to make sure we look at the larger sample size to see it.