Aussies in NBA: How Wesley Matthews can unlock Andrew Bogut

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has lofty expectations when it comes to Andrew Bogut this season.

Carlisle openly heaped praise on Bogut in July, complimenting the big Australian’s offensive arsenal and calling him a top-five defensive center. The Mavericks boss then doubled down last weekend.

In a budding romance that must make resident Pick and Roll Mavericks savant Winston Zhang a jealous man, the superlatives keep coming. Carlisle loves himself some Andrew Bogut, and who could blame him?

If Bogut can replicate his Golden State form, Dallas will be in great shape as they attempt one last relaunch before Dirk Nowitzki calls it a career.

There is the obvious issue of health, something we will brush over for today. Bogut is 32 years old and comes with an injury risk. He knows it, Carlisle knows it and the entire Mavericks franchise knows it. No need to belabour the point. Dallas will surely limit Bogut’s minutes in an attempt to keep him healthy through April.

Injuries aside, the pressing concern over Bogut’s value to Dallas has virtually nothing to do with the man himself. Apprehension should come from the drop off in talent around him.

Bogut had a perfect situation in Golden State. It’s impossible to argue against that being the case. Playing with the Splash Brothers allowed Bogut to show off his extreme offensive talents. Take this Klay Thompson dunk as an example.

Sure, the defence is lax, allowing Thompson to make an easy cut to the basket. Bogut still threads the needle with a great dime. He remains a great passer by anyone’s standard, let alone for a 7-foot center. Need more proof?

What about this fancy behind-the-back assist for Curry.

Or this subtle piece of brilliance to set up Thompson.

In Steve Kerr’s offence, Bogut was allowed to roam above the three-point line and initiate a previously unimaginable number of dribble hand-offs. Once each offensive set began, Warriors guards would read the defence and act accordingly. Constant movement, constant flow and a commitment on passing up good shots to get great ones. The combination of Kerr, Bogut and the Splash Brothers made sweet music together.

Curry and Thompson have more gravity than any other pairing in the league. They are the best backcourt duo in the league, perhaps in NBA history, right Mark Jackson? Their presence discombobulates opposition defenders.

Golden State has won 140 regular season games over the past two seasons, good for the second best two-year stretch in league history, with the Curry and Thompson pairing being the primary on-court reason.

Bogut is a supercharged role player at this stage of his career. One who also happens to be the perfect compliment for a contending team. He is an amazing passer, is an intellect on the floor, sets a mean screen and so on… we know all of this. They are accepted skills and should not be doubted.

The Australian will be a welcome addition to the Mavericks offence. But to what degree can he help? Will the addition of Bogut alone be enough to boost Dallas?

Bogut’s best offensive skills in 2016 function as a means to help those around him. Like many aging stars, he needs an ample supporting cast to show off his full skill set.

Each of the Warriors highlights we covered above end with Bogut’s teammates finishing off his work. While Bogut makes a great offensive decision each time, it’s the movement, skill and finishing ability of Curry and Thompson that rubber-stamps each possession. The duo is fundamental to Bogut showing off.

This isn’t to say that skills exhibited by Bogut in Golden State will die off in Dallas. Far from it. Curry and Thompson were the Champagne talents, while Bogut was the straw that stirred the drink. But there is a level of co-dependency - even the most effective of facilitators will be wasted if there is insufficient talent on the receiving end. This was very rarely the case in Golden State.

There was an irrefutable level of synergy across the Golden State roster. It created an offensive ecosystem where talented passers thrive. Where Bogut thrived.

Here’s the thing, though. Bogut doesn’t need the best to be effective. Simply give him competent guard play and an offence will elevate to new heights around him. When we last saw Bogut, he was reproducing the Golden State antics with Patty Mills in Rio.

That bounce pass was a thing of beauty. While Mills is no Splash Brother, he is (at worst) a competent offensive guard with tremendous intellect and shooting range.

So what about the Dallas Mavericks?

Before we launch down the rabbit hole, here is the Mavericks projected guard depth chart as the season approaches.

Point guard: Deron Williams, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris

Shooting guard: Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry and Justin Anderson

After departing Golden State, moving to any other franchise would naturally mean Bogut has less guard talent to work with. The drop off in Dallas is pronounced.

With apologies to Deron Williams, the diminutive J.J. Barea and rest of that licorice all sorts mix, there just isn’t much to excite the senses. A strong argument can be made that Patty Mills will be the most talented guard Bogut plays with during the 16-17 calendar year. I think that last comment is hyperbolic right now, but we are one injury to our next subject away from it becoming prophetic.

Wesley Matthews is the most talented guard on the Mavericks roster. If Matthews can recapture his best form, he and Bogut could become the hot new duo of 2016 and make sweet music of their own.

Coming off an achilles injury, Matthews suffered through the worst statistical year of his career last season. He shot 39 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point land, both career low figures. His touch around the rim dissipated, an ability to take opposition defenders off the dribble had eroded. Matthews spent the majority of last season learning to trust his body again, a task that made on-court production a dream too far.

The discrepancy in Matthews’ performance during 2014-15, the best season of his career, and 2015-16 across every per 36 minute category is striking.

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Matthews had the third worst shooting percentage of all players who played at least 30 minutes a game during 2015-16. The shooting skills which helped him earn a $70 million contract in Dallas abandoned Matthews for long stretches.

It was a difficult campaign for Matthews, yet for all his struggles, there were glimpses of his old form. He exploded on the Washington Wizards, balled out against the Golden State Warriors and sealed the Mavericks sole playoff victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

How can Matthews help Bogut?

We have already seen elements of Bogut’s playmaking talent during preseason. This play from Dallas’ game against Oklahoma City shows off great intuitive skills.

The number of NBA big men who can collect a defensive rebound and facilitate offence like that can be counted on one hand.

We have also seen the chemistry between Bogut and Harrison Barnes on full display, with the North Carolina product being the benefactor time and time again.

In just a few preseason minutes, Bogut has already shown why the Mavericks should feel just justified in thinking he could become a focal point of their offence. The Australian is well practiced at boosting the performance of those around him, which is why Matthews can help unlock the many benefits of Bogut’s game.

Matthews represents the Mavericks big upside gamble. He is the sole guard on Dallas’ roster capable of being an effective two-way player in 2016.

While you can’t build an entire offence around either Bogut or Matthews, they are both highly effective when surrounded by equal talents. Matthews will never be confused with a pick and roll maestro, but he can do everything else you’d want from a shooting guard.

He is a more than capable secondarily ball handler and has developed into one of the NBA’s more efficient off-ball offensive options. Last year aside, Matthews has been an outstanding three point shooter his entire career. Since entering the league in 2009, only Curry and James Harden have made more three pointers than Matthews.

Speaking of which, the Mavericks need Matthews to breathe life into their outside shooting. Dallas ranked fifth for total three-point attempts last season, but finished with only the 23rd best percentage from beyond the arc. Matthews returning to form would be a tremendous fillip for Dallas, and provide greater spacing for Bogut to operate.

Matthews is also a deadly threat when coming off screens.

During his last season in Portland, Matthews tied Steph Curry as the NBA’s most efficient scorer when coming off screens (among players with at least 50 qualified possessions). Both averaged 1.19 points per possession in such situations. This past season, Curry maintained his output while Matthews dropped all the way to 0.95 PPP, placing him at 48th in the entire NBA. Improved health, coupled with the addition of Bogut should see that number improve.

Portland’s motion offence employed many similar concepts to that of Golden State. Matthews was often cutting around the court, distracting defences and causing chaos in a similar vein to the Splash Brothers.

Matthews was freed on that play by a Chris Kaman screen, something that looks eerily familiar to many Warriors possessions from past few years.

Matthews is not on the level of Curry or Thompson, yet his talents should allow Dallas to incorporate many of the concepts used in Golden State. This should create a familiar environment for Bogut to operate within.

Throw in Matthews outstanding post game, something the Mavericks official website delved into last year, and he is exactly type of offence player that should excel next to Bogut. A crafty veteran who can space the floor, cut through opposition defences and be in position to reap the fruit of Bogut’s labour.

Simply adding Bogut should prove beneficial to the Mavericks attack. The combination of he and Carlisle, one of the best offensive minds in the NBA, will facilitate an improved Mavericks offence.

But Matthews is the Mavericks’ X-factor. He is the perimeter threat who can help Dallas' offence return to the NBA’s elite.

A healthy Matthews can unlock Bogut’s passing skills. He can be the benefactor of Bogut’s wonderfully illegal legal screens and he can allow Dallas to employ offensive sets like this.

It doesn't take much imagination to see Dallas running something similar given their new personnel. Mavericks fans should be excited about the prospect of Dirk Nowitzki operating the highpost, with Matthews cutting around the court and Bogut creating space.

Make no mistake, Bogut remains a highly skilled offensive threat. He can do a little bit of everything, and he can do most of it very well. With just a little help from his new supporting cast he could reclaim his mantle as one of the NBA’s leading big men.