It took two months for the Houston Rockets to decide whether or not to keep Garrison Mathews around for the long haul.
Before joining the Rockets, Mathews’ career was in limbo. The Boston Celtics waived him during training camp following a quick two-year stint with the Washington Wizards. He signed with the Rockets on a two-way deal on October 18. Two months later, Mathews signed a four-year deal worth $8.2 million.
His contributions to the team’s seven-game win streak made Mathews a fan favorite while giving general manager Rafael Stone the comfortability to depart from Danuel House.
Mathews averaged 16.1 points on 44.8 percent 3-point shooting during the win streak. To make his on-court contributions more valid, the Rockets began their win streak nine days after Mathews’ first appearance on November 15.
He established himself as a hidden gem within Stephen Silas’ system. But there are two parts of Mathews’ game he must enhance to maintain a vital role in 2023.
Consistency with his offensive production played a significant part in the dizzy feeling of watching Mathews over the next 54 games. When he shot 30 percent or better from behind the arc, the Rockets won 15 of their 20 games. When Mathews shot under 30 percent, Houston won five of their contests.
One performance to summarize his impact on Houston’s ability to win games took place during a five-point road victory against the Utah Jazz. Mathews led the Rockets to a 116-111 win inside Vivint Arena, where he scored a team-high 23 points while drilling five out of 10 triples.
But Mathews’ most significant improvements must come on the defensive side of the ball. An enhanced play on defense is the best way for Mathews to elevate his on-court production next season.
He is already solid at taking charges. But Mathews will become more vital in Houston’s defensive scheme once he improves his perimeter defense. Mathews finished the 2022 campaign with a 116.5 defensive net rating. He has the capabilities to become the Rockets’ version of Alex Caruso of the Chicago Bulls — who finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 105.5.
Barring any significant trades, Mathews will reclaim his role as a noteworthy part of Silas’ rotation in 2023 — where there will be more responsibilities.
Although he signed a four-year contract to remain with the Rockets until 2025, each year is non-guaranteed. Mathews will remain expendable for Houston. But improving his defense and becoming more consistent on offense is the best way for Mathews to assure his roster spot in 2023.
Mathews appeared in 65 games for the 20-62 Rockets. He averaged 10.0 points per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from behind the arc.