Hawks’ Wesley Matthews gets honest about Trae Young: ‘Tough to do’

Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Atlanta Hawks swingman Wesley Matthews is not the same type of player that former team veteran Solomon Hill is. But the former Milwaukee Bucks wing wants to provide a similar presence. It is partially at the behest of general manager Landry Fields, assistant general manager Kyle Korver, and head coach Quin Snyder.

But it is also just the type of player Matthews is, or at least what he has become heading into his 15th NBA season.

“That’s what Landry and Kyle and Coach Quinn brought me in here to do is really just be myself, not be anything different,” the former Milwaukee Buck said via Jameelah Johnson of atlhawksfans after practice on October 9.

It’s something he is using to take some of the burden off Trae Young.

“You think about everything that he’s gone through as far as coming into this league at 18, 19 years old, expected to take over a franchise that had seen great days but hasn’t seen great days as of late. And you’re throwing it on a 19-year-old’s shoulders to say, ‘Hey, go take us to the promised land,’ Matthews said. “That’s tough to do.”

Young’s first two NBA seasons extended the Hawks’ playoff drought to three consecutive seasons after a decade-long run. They have made it each of the last three years with him at the helm.

The former No. 5 overall pick, Young, is a two-time All-Star and one-time All-NBA selection. He has led the NBA in total assists in each of the last two seasons, led in total points in 2021-22, and led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020-21.

And, following back-to-back first-round playoff eliminations, he has grander plans in mind.

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Matthews is trying to do his part to simplify that task as much as possible.

“One thing I told him was … just go be the best player, we’ll focus on everything else,” Matthews said. “Lead by giving us your effort. Show up, be present, be here for your teammates. And he’s done all that.”

Young has faced outside criticism for seemingly not being the easiest player to work with over the years but has shown an improved commitment this offseason, returning to Atlanta early.

“We’ve all been back here in Atlanta earlier than I’ve ever been, since even my rookie year,” Young said on “From The Point by Trae Young” on October 9. “We have guys that are here and staying throughout the whole week, and who have been here for a while. … I’m just excited about everybody being here. But I think chemistry is the main thing I’ve been working on.”

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“I’m 36, about to be 37 years old. So I am like 15, 16 years older than a lot of these players. … It’s fun it’s different,” Matthews said. “I will definitely say it’s not a situation I ever saw myself in. But I’m embracing it and these guys, they’re making it easy. I’m really really happy to be here, and I think it’s a really really good feel.”

Matthews doesn’t have to do it alone. He can lean on the familiar presence of Patty Mills.

Mills, a standout for Australia during the 2023 FIBA World Cup, was also Matthews’ teammate with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010-11.

He is just another piece of what the Hawks hope is a more resilient team.

“One thing about this team is we’re going to show up every single day,” Matthews said. “We’re going to show up every game, and we’re going to get better. We’re not going to play our best basketball until it’s time to play our best basketball.”

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After going 41-41 during the regular season while undergoing drastic changes to the front office and coaching staff, the Hawks appear eager to build some more positive consistency.