Charles Matthews decided to return to school for his redshirt junior season at the University of Michigan on Wednesday. This, in my opinion, was the best choice he could’ve made for himself.
Don’t get me wrong, Matthews had a solid season with the Wolverines in 2017-18. But I don’t think he was ready to make the jump to the pros. Neither did the NBA or pro scouts as he wasn’t invited to the NBA Combine held a couple of weeks ago. He was projected to go undrafted in most mock drafts and was a late second round choice, at best, in some mocks.
First off, I think it was a wise choice for Matthews to return because he needs more seasoning along with more than just one solid season of college hoops to solidify himself as an NBA draft prospect.
Matthews started off his college career as a highly touted recruit out of Chicago as a lengthy, athletic swing-man. He chose the Kentucky Wildcats as his first team and averaged 1.7 points per game in just over 10 minutes a game as a freshman for John Calipari’s squad. After his first year, he decided to transfer to U of M and sat out the 2016-2017 season.
In his first season for John Beilein and the Wolverines, Matthews showed why he was the 42nd best recruit by ESPN in the class of 2015. He averaged 13 PPG, 5.5 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game and shot 49.5% from the field in 2017-18. He was second on the team in points and rebounds behind Moe Wagner (who could be a late first round, early second round draft selection in this years draft) and second in minutes played behind Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.
He also was crucial to Michigan’s run to the championship game in the NCAA tournament. He bested some season averages in the tourney by averaging 14.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG and shooting over 50% from the field.
But for all the positives Matthews had, there was a negative to accompany it.
His shooting (although he had a solid field goal percentage) was horrendous. He shot 31.8% from behind the 3-point line in the regular season and 55.8% from the free throw line. Those percentages actually got worse during the NCAA tournament as he shot 21% (4-19) from behind the line and 54.2% (13-24) from the charity stripe. Those are numbers that would not bode well in today’s NBA for a 6’6 shooting guard/small forward.
He is also not the best passer or decision maker out there and doesn’t have the best court vision. He only averaged 2.4 APG during the regular season and had only 7 assists in 6 games in the tournament. Another year of college basketball could allow him to hone this skill before he goes pro.
While most top end players are “one and dones” in today’s world of college basketball, that was just not in the cards for Matthews. After barely playing for Calipari as a freshman at Kentucky, he transferred to Ann Arbor to get more playing time and hone/improve his skills, and he did just that.
He had solid stats during his first year as a Wolverine and with Wagner leaving for the NBA and the graduation of seniors Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, I believe this could be Matthews’ team next season. He, along with Zavier Simpson, should be the leaders for this U of M squad for 2018-19.
Those two, along with the development of young players like Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers, and a strong incoming recruiting class, that includes 4 star forward Ignas Brazdeikis out of Canada, could lead this Michigan team to heights they haven’t seen since 1989 when they last won a national championship.
Returning to school for Matthews allows him another year to grow both mentally and physically. While he stands 6’6, he only weighs around 200 pounds. Another year of college will allow him to get stronger and be able to bang with bigger bodies that come with playing in the NBA.
It will also allow him to try to improve his shooting stroke. He has no problem getting to the rim and scoring, but he also needs to develop a mid-range and outside shooting touch if he wants to make it at the next level. And while getting to the rim is nice, converting and-one’s after a foul is even nicer.
I believe, in the long run, Matthews will appreciate his decision to return to the maize and blue. Coach Beilein is a fantastic coach and will do all in his power to help him reach his ultimate potential, not only as a player but as a person as well. I think after another solid campaign in college, Matthews could become a late first rounder/early second rounder if he progresses well enough over the course of next season.
So overall, I think it was probably an easy choice for Matthews to make. While it may be his dream to one day play in the NBA, I think he realized that this year was not for him. It’s a stacked draft and he has many weaknesses that he can improve on with another year of college hoops. He was a good player this year but I think can become a great player next year.
Welcome back and good luck, Charles.