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Wes Matthews’ toughest opponent this season is his own body

If Matthews returns to form, he could help propel Dallas as high as the four-seed. If not, he could drag them out of the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks Media Day Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Biggest question

Can Wes Matthews return to his pre-injury form, which earned him a $70 million mega-deal with the Mavericks?

The biggest question with Matthews is obvious. If he can return to form, he’s one of the five or 10 most prolific three-point shooters in the league at a 40 percent clip, a post-up monster on two guards, and a lockdown defender on the wing. He unlocks small lineups and big lineups. He shuts down top threats at point guard or on the wing. He can switch, he can fight through screens, and he’s the type of player nearly every team in the NBA is starved for right now. But his body has to let him be that player.

Matthews is a huge anomaly in the history of athletes with Achilles injuries - only the great Dominique Wilkins ever truly returned to form. But Matthews is by far the fastest return to professional play that I could find, and he kept showing flashes of his form throughout the year without ever being able to string those performances together. He was injured on March 5, 2015. He was playing basketball again in the first game of the next season, when most players are out for a year or more (Brandon Jennings experienced the same injury on January 24, 2015, and he returned to the floor nearly 11 months later, long after Matthews was playing heavy minutes each night).

Unfortunately, Matthews also struggled mightily with the fact that he simply wasn’t as quick or explosive as he was used to. This showed in his down months of poor shooting nights, no post-ups, and tough assignments often getting the better of his defense.

Best case

He returns to form. A 40 percent three-point shooter is a dangerous and sought-after weapon in today’s NBA, and that floor spacing alongside spot-up ace Harrison Barnes and gravitational threat Dirk Nowitzki will be deadly. Throw in a nice post-up game from those same three players firing passes back out to each other for open shots, and Carlisle’s typical wizardry could make this team a top 10 offense. Combining with Barnes and Anderson to shut down the top two threats in the backcourt or on the wing night in and night out could give the Mavericks one of their only top 10 defenses in the past decade. The last time they were top 10 in both categories? 2011.

This is the type of game Wes can have on offense:

This is the type of thing he can do on defense when he’s healthy and feeling great. Watch him stifle James Harden here and just take the ball. Harden never sees a second of daylight, and Matthews gets him cleanly. He can do this to top players night in and night out if his body lets him.

Worst case

The worst case is last season repeating itself. Almost no one has ever come back 100 percent from this injury, and it’s posible Matthews could never be the same, could be a step slow forevermore. He doesn’t dunk again, his shot comes and goes, and his defense is built on great positioning and hands but lacks the athleticism to stop KD, LeBron, Kawhi, and others. He becomes a $16+ million a year role player with a great attitude and strong leadership, but isn’t a catalyst for the next great Mavericks team. He could slowly, or even quickly, decline into an afterthought as his athleticism goes away.

Overall, signs point to a good season for Matthews. He’s had a full offseason to focus on getting in shape and developing skills rather than recovery or rehabilitation. He’s an incredibly driven individual, and he’s got a lot of support from the Mavericks’ top-notch training staff and coaching environment. In this make-or-break season, Matthews seems poised to control his own destiny.