How has Matthews looked one week in?
His defense has often looked stellar, bordering on lockdown, in two games against James Harden and one spent mostly on Monta Ellis with some time on Paul George. He has been aggressive on offense, searching out shots to find his rhythm and boldly trying to make plays, especially with Dirk out for two games.
His offense has been, in a word, subpar. Through the first week of the season, he is in the 20th percentile for efficiency as a spot up shooter (per Synergy). For a guy who once was counted on to hit 200+ threes a season at a 40% clip, his current 18% shooting on 33 attempts is not a good sign. On the other hand, his 13/14 from the line indicates his ability remains, and perhaps there are some shot quality issues—taken at the end of the clock, on the move, or with a hand in his face unusually often.
In the first week of play, he is averaging more minutes per game than any season in his career, and he has been absolutely bombs away from beyond the arc, launching nearly twice as many threes per game as any other season of his career. This is a large part of why Dallas is first in the league in pace-adjusted three-point attempts, launching 36 per 100 possessions, but only 11th in percentage (per NBA official media stats).
Defensively, Matthews looks more like his old self, game three’s uncalled Harden offensive foul notwithstanding. Here are three key plays that show Matthews returning to form with his diligence, intensity, and quickness. Although the sample size for all players is very small, Matthews has been isolated more than anyone else in the league so far. He is also giving up the fewest points per possession on those plays, at only 0.3 PPP in spite of most possessions coming against James Harden. First, watch as he picks Harden’s pocket with those quick hands:
On the very next possession, Matthews baits a frustrated Harden into a charge, after trying the same thing a few possessions earlier and being whistled for the blocking foul. This time, Matthews beats him to the spot, absorbs the contact, and earns an extra possession for Dallas.
Finally, Matthews locks Harden down in a game-saving isolation situation. His footwork is on point, his hands stay out of the Harden-sweep-zone, and he goes straight up to contest the shot at the end. Textbook defense.
Overall, Matthews has improved in some areas since last year, and may just need to find his stroke again. After the ups and downs in the first year back from surgery, however, starting the season off on the wrong foot should be a warning sign to the Mavericks.