By now, you should know the story of E.C. Matthews.
Matthews’ 2015-16 season came to an end before it even got off the ground. The junior guard tore an ACL in the Rams’ first game of the year and was forced to take a medical redshirt.
This season, Matthews is back and better than ever. He’s the star of a Rhode Island team ranked in the top-25 for the first time since 2007-08, and has shown no signs of decline coming back from the ACL injury. He leads the Rams in scoring, and is a big reason they are being touted as a potential Cinderella in March.
As far as draft prospects go, Matthews has something to prove. Draft Express currently ranks him as the No. 31 prospect in the junior class, and he’s not included in their 2017 or 2018 mock drafts. Matthews is currently on the outside looking in, but his play this season could make NBA executives reconsider.
First and foremost, Matthews is a scorer. The lefty has a career scoring average of 15.5 points per game, and is averaging 17.4 points per game through the first five games this season. He’s doing it more efficiently too. One of the knocks on Matthews early in his career was that he wasn’t an efficient scorer. But this year, he’s shooting 55 percent from the floor, and 48 percent from three, which are both career highs.
As Rhode Island’s primary ball-handler, Matthews does most of his damage in the pick-and-roll. This is something NBA teams will be looking at closely, as the pick-and-roll is the focal point of NBA offenses. He doesn’t have elite athleticism when attacking the rim, but he’s a good athlete who is crafty when making plays off the bounce. That he’s left-handed brings an added wrinkle.
When Matthews comes off of screens, he uses an array of hesitations, change in speeds and change in directions to get to the hoop. He’s able to to create shots for both himself and his teammates in the half-court, which is a skill he’ll need to utilize at the next level. He’s not a distributor in a traditional point guard mold, but he’s able to use his size and floor vision to create shots for his teammates when he drives in the lane.
One of the knocks on Matthews as a prospect is that he’s a tweener. He’s listed at 6’4” - on the small side for NBA 2-guards - and doesn’t have the ball-handling ability of a true point guard. He’s good at a lot of things, but doesn’t necessarily excel at one thing for these specific positions.
He can also at times be careless with the ball. In his career, Matthews has averaged 2.8 turnovers per game. Part of that is due to being a primary ball-handler, but he will need to get that number down if he wants to make it at the next level. He’s made progress this year, as he’s only turned it over on 9.5 percent of his possessions, down from 18.6 percent in his sophomore year. He’ll need to show he can be consistent over a full season.
In general, consistency is something that could make or break his draft chances. He’s a career 42 percent shooter from the floor, and 34 percent from three-point range. As stated earlier, he’s significantly increased those percentages so far this season. It will do wonders for his stock if he’s able to finish with a field goal percentage around 50 percent while shooting 40 percent from three.
At the moment, Matthews is a second-round prospect at best. He’s old for his class, and NBA teams value youth. If he continues to play at a high-level this season, he should be able to work his way into mock drafts. If he can lead Rhode Island to a deep run in March, that spotlight could help him catch the attention of NBA executives. Sometimes showing out on a big stage is all it takes to get your name into the mix, and that might be his best opportunity. At worst, Matthews can always return to school for his senior year, but will have an even bigger task at hand if he chooses to do so.