Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
The first installment centers on Michigan wing Charles Matthews.
The Atlanta Hawks own a trio of second-round selections in the 2019 NBA Draft and, as such, the possibilities are endless for Travis Schlenk and company. While second round picks aren’t “sexy” in nature, the presence of three choices provides flexibility and, at the very least, gives Atlanta’s front office license to take some swings with a reasonable goal of adding one potential rotation player for the future.
With that in mind, there are myriad skill sets that the Hawks could be looking for and one of them comes in the form of legitimately impressive defensive talent. Michigan wing Charles Matthews brings that to the table because, simply put, he is on a (very) short list of the best wing defenders available in the 2019 class.
Matthews, who began his college career at Kentucky as a highly-touted prospect, spent his last two college seasons in Ann Arbor and he was a productive and important player for John Beilein’s team. At his best, Matthews was a two-way force for the Wolverines, contributing to a team that made a run to the National Championship Game in his first season. When things didn’t go as well, Matthews was a tricky offensive fit but, in saying that, his defensive abilities were never in question.
At 6’6 with a 6’9 wingspan, Matthews is a fantastic athlete with enough length to be a legitimate defensive option at four positions. He regularly silenced top-tier opponents during his college career and, from day one, it is likely that Matthews would be an above-average NBA defender, simply through the deployment of his impressive tools and strong awareness and aptitude.
If considering Matthews as a draft prospect, the defensive end of the floor is what would sell a front office and, as a result, it is conceivable that a team could fall in love within the top 30 or 40 selections. Still, there is downside within Matthews’ game and it paints a divisive picture in terms of overall evaluation.
To put it plainly, Matthews has really struggled as a three-point shooter. In his college career, Matthews attempted 208 shots from beyond the arc and converted only 64, weighing in at a 30.8 percent clip. Given the fact that the college three-point line is shorter, that doesn’t necessarily bode well for his future, even with natural 3-and-D projections.
Matthews’ mechanics aren’t broken, which could provide optimism, but he would be fortunate to land within a strong player development culture. Atlanta would certainly be an organization that could provide that but, at the end of the day, Matthews’ NBA projection stems largely from whether a team buys into a potential evolution that would end with him as a league-average shooter on open, catch-and-shoot threes.
Elsewhere, Matthews does have some creation ability off the dribble and, as noted previously, his athleticism really shines in the open floor. During his time at Michigan, he often fell in love with his mid-range game to a fault but, at the professional level, it feels like a safe bet that the tendency to launch (contested) pull-ups would be coached out of him with haste. In short, Matthews wasn’t a liability on offense during his collegiate time but, in the NBA, he will absolutely have to minimize his weaknesses in order to become a full-fledged rotation player.
Lastly, Matthews is older than some teams would want, even when the likely investment point is a second round pick. By nature of his transfer and three total years on the floor in college, Matthews enters the draft at 22 years old, and he will be 23 in November. That isn’t prohibitive given his translatable skill set but, as always, it is something to keep in mind when factoring in relative upside.
All things considered, Matthews should be selected in June if he chooses to stay in the draft and it is clear what teams would be looking for if choosing to target him in the second round. For the Hawks, there is a clear need for high-end defensive talent to be added to the roster at some point during the rebuild and Matthews does have it. Throw in the strong player development reputation of the organization and there could be potential for a fruitful partnership, particularly with either of the team’s picks that land in the 40’s.