MILWAUKEE — In so many ways, Wesley Matthews is a perfect match for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The former Madison Memorial High School and Marquette University standout has shown during his 10 seasons as an NBA shooting guard that he’s a reliable 3-point shooter, tireless defender, tough competitor and a cerebral leader. In case you haven’t been watching, that’s exactly the type of player the Bucks are trying to fit in around NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo as they pursue the championship that somehow eluded them last season.
So when Matthews signed a two-year, $5.7 million free agent contract with the Bucks in July to return to the state where he cut his basketball teeth, the question became: Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?
“Coming back home, it’s a sentimental feeling and one that you can’t quite describe,” Matthews said Monday during the Bucks’ media day. “And to see the success, the growth of the city, the growth of the state, and to see what this Bucks organization, what this team has done, coming back I don’t even recognize some of this stuff around here. It’s cool. I’m excited to be a part of it. Winning is huge and I just feel that what I bring as a player fits perfectly with what this team is about.”
Matthews’ career, already one of the best ever in the NBA for a player who went undrafted, has come full circle with his return to Wisconsin. In high school, he led Memorial to his first WIAA state championship with a Herculean effort. In college, he was a starter on four consecutive NCAA tournament teams during Marquette’s first four seasons in the loaded Big East Conference. If Matthews could return home and help the Bucks win their first NBA title since 1971, it would round out what is already one of the greatest careers ever for a state player.
Still, it was never a goal of Matthews to come home and build upon the legacy he sculpted in high school and college. Although he always kept tabs on the Bucks from afar, it just worked out that way after last season, when he toiled for three teams — Dallas, New York and Indiana — while playing out the final year of the four-year contract he signed with Dallas in 2015.
“I think all of us players, we’ve all been on different teams and you keep your eye on things and obviously home is always something that I’ve kept my eye on,” Matthews said. “I think it was like two years ago, one of my boys asked me, ‘Would you ever come back home?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could see that.’ Then just the way everything shook up and worked out this year, it was the time to do it. I’m excited to be here.”
The Bucks feel the same way about having him here. Matthews is part of the crew expected to replace shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon, the biggest personnel loss from a team that had the best record in the NBA while leading the league in both scoring average and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
“We were really excited to sign Wesley, obviously a Wisconsin native and Marquette grad,” general manager Jon Horst said. “And for him, (it’s) the toughness that he brings, his ability to spread the floor, the acuity he plays with, just another guy that helps at the guard spot. We really thought his toughness would help us and (creating) space always helps Giannis and Khris (Middleton) and Eric (Bledsoe). Our better players will have more freedom to operate. So for us to get in him in free agency, in an area of need on our roster, was really a great get.”
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In addition to Matthews, the Bucks will look at another free agent signee, Kyle Korver, and emerging youngsters Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton and Sterling Brown as players who likely will join Middleton in the wing rotation. Matthews’ proven two-way ability probably puts him in the driver’s seat to replace Brogdon in the starting lineup.
He won’t drive to the basket as much as Brogdon did, but Matthews is durable, carries a 13.7 career scoring average and has shot 38.2 percent from 3 in the NBA.
“I think the thing that stands out about Wesley is what he brings on the defensive end of the court,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think he’s proven during his career, from how he came into the league and he’s just continued to maintain really just being an elite defender on the wing. I think he can take 2s and 3s. He’ll guard anybody. The toughness. There’s just a great competitor in Wesley Matthews. That’s what always stands out whenever you played against him. And then obviously, his ability to shoot from range and deep, in different environments, coming off of screens. I just think he’s going to be a really, really good fit with our returning guys.”
So what does Matthews think he brings to the Bucks?
“They already were the No. 1 defensive team last year, so I’ll try not to mess that up. And they already shot the hell out of the 3-ball, so I’ll try not to mess that up,” the 32-year-old said with a laugh. “Really, just (try to) enhance everything, bring a different perspective, a leadership-type role. You know me, I’m going to be the the first one in the trenches and that’s just the way this team is built.”
Believing they have a championship run in them, the Bucks kept the core of their team together. Bringing Matthews home should help keep that core strong.