Winning at the Margins: Rockets Sign Garrison Mathews 

Milwaukee Bucks v Houston Rockets
Milwaukee Bucks v Houston Rockets / Bob Levey/GettyImages

The Houston Rockets' sudden resurgence can be summed up with two words: Garry Bird. The introduction of Garrison ‘Garry Bird’ Mathews into the starting lineup helped propel the Rockets to a seven-game win streak and go 9-4 over their past 13 games. 

The Rockets decided to reward Mathews’ instant impact by ripping up his two-way contract and signing him to a four-year deal worth in excess of $8 million. To facilitate the deal, the Rockets waived Danuel House. The final three years are not guaranteed, and the Rockets have an option for the 2024-25 season.

Mathews’ explosive performances have made him a cult legend. Since entering the starting lineup, he has averaged 14.6 points per game on 44.2-percent shooting and 38.4-percent shooting from three. 

Garrison Mathews' Instant Impact

Related. Garrison Mathews has unleashed the Houston Rockets . dark

Over the 12 game span, his 8.3 3-point attempts per game would rank 12th in the league with only CJ McCollum, Fred VanVleet, and Stephen Curry besting his 3-point shooting percentage of players averaging over eight threes a game. 

The Rockets landing an elite volume 3-point shooter for close to $2 million per season is the definition of winning on the margins. However, his impact on their season has been anything but marginal.  

With Mathews on the court, the Rockets have an offensive rating of 115.8, and when he’s on the bench, it slips to 101.3. To put that in perspective, the difference between having the second-worst offense and the second-best offense in the league is Garrison Mathews. 

FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor WAR has Mathews as the Rockets' best player this season. In only 496 minutes, he has amassed 2.1 WAR, a top-50 mark, and his overall Raptor of +5.7 points per 100 possessions is 12th best in the league and in a virtual tie with Kevin Durant. 

The Rockets’ complete 180 with Mathews introduction into the starting lineup is in no small part down to the fact that Mathews has had an MVP-like impact. However, expecting him to continue at this pace should be tempered. 

Realistic Expectations for Garrison Mathews

Mathews is unlikely to secretly be Steph Curry. He is not capable of singlehandedly turning a bad offense into an elite one. If he is, then the Rockets will have just inked the greatest contract in the history of professional sports. 

Mathews is a specialist and he is special at his specialty. His introduction into the starting lineup coincided with Eric Gordon entering the starting lineup and the Rockets ditching their dual big lineups. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but when the Rockets significantly upgraded their 3-point shooting at multiple positions their offense exploded. 

While the Rockets’ offense blossomed with Mathews, their defense takes a noticeable step back. When Mathews is on the court, the Rockets have a defensive rating of 114.5 points, and when he sits it comes in at 111.9, with opponents shooting nearly identically from 3-point range in both situations. 

Mathews is also not much of a playmaker. He has 11 total assists on the season. However, none of his deficiencies really matter. 

Mathews looks like an elite floor spacer which is one of the most valuable skills in the modern NBA, and it’s especially important to the Rockets’ offense. The Rockets take the fifth-most 3-pointers as a percentage of their overall shots. 

For the 2021-22 season, the NBA’s salary cap is $112 million. Mathews is set to make 1.8-percent of that. He doesn’t need to be an MVP to be an excellent signing. The Rockets secured a big win at the margins with Garrison Mathews. 

Next. Waived: Looking Back at Danuel House’s Houston Rockets Tenure. dark