Even for the rebuilding Houston Rockets, a 1-16 start was bleak. But over the last three weeks, the Rockets have turned a corner and won nine of their last 13 games. If that wasn’t strange enough, a big reason why is the emergence of Garrison Mathews, a little-known guard whose unbelievable rise in such a short time has led to a massive pay increase.
The Houston Rockets picked up Garrison Mathews just before the season began
Houston had every intention of building around young standouts like Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Jae’Sean Tate. Yet it’s been Mathews who has arguably surprised more than anyone else on the team.
The 25-year-old shooting guard was a four-year standout at Lipscomb University. In 2018, Mathews led the Bisons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. A year later, after averaging more than 20 points for a third straight season, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard declared for the 2019 NBA Draft but never heard his name called.
Mathews wound up signing a two-way contract with the Washington Wizards, becoming the first player from Lipscomb to make it to the NBA. Even though he spent most of the season on the bench or in the G League, the Franklin, Tennessee native managed to get into 18 games as a rookie. He ended up playing a more substantial role for Washington in 2020-21, appearing in 64 games for an average of 16.2 minutes a night.
Despite Mathews’ moderate contributions, the Wizards opted to let the guard walk after the season. The Boston Celtics picked him up during training camp but dropped him a couple of weeks later. Then one day before the regular season tipped off, the Rockets claimed the former Lipscomb star off waivers and signed him to a two-way contract.
Mathews has been a scoring machine since entering the starting lineup
Mathews’ Rockets tenure began with 13 consecutive inactives. Finally, the former Bison played just under 15 minutes and scored seven points in his team debut against the Memphis Grizzlies. But the real game-changing moment came after the 2021 second-overall pick Green strained his hamstring.
Starting in place of the young phenom on November 27, Mathews scored 20 points with five threes against the Charlotte Hornets. He had 19 the next game, hitting another five 3-pointers. He would go on to hit three or more triples in each of the next five games, one of which he went 6-of-11 from beyond the arc and scored a season-high 23 points against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mathews wound up reaching double figures in each of his first eight starts, averaging 17.0 points on 48.8% shooting from the field and 43.8% shooting from deep. Even after cooling off and failing to hit a three in back-to-back games, the third-year guard responded with 17 and 16 points in his last two outings.
The Rockets are giving Mathews a substantial pay raise
Houston’s newest sharpshooter, whose heroics have earned him the nickname “Garry Bird”, has been making very little money as far as NBA players go. So after more than two seasons of playing on nothing more than a two-way minimum contract, Mathews is finally receiving a major paycheck.
As reported by ESPN, the Rockets signed Mathews to a long-term deal, converting his previous two-way contract. The guard will now reportedly make just over $8 million over the next four years, giving him a higher annual salary than prominent teammates like Tate, Porter Jr., and Kenyon Martin Jr.
“It’s a lot of emotions, just because it’s taken me so long to get here,” Matthews told the media on Saturday when describing his feelings. “Honestly, I lost faith that it would ever come. I’m super thankful to the owners, to [general manager] Rafael [Stone], and to everybody that’s given me this opportunity. I can’t thank them enough for putting me in this spot and giving me this contract.”
Even when Green and Porter Jr. reenter the starting lineup in the near future, Mathews has earned considerable playing time as a knockdown shooter going forward. And his paycheck will now reflect his meaningful contributions.