Wesley Matthews is all that remains from The Summer of DeAndre.
The grizzled shooting guard was supposed to be the complementary piece to a post-Dirk core featuring a Parsons-DeAndre two man game. The Achilles injury brought a cloud of uncertainty for a player who has never lacked confidence. But make no mistake, Matthews is no consolation prize. His DNA is woven into the identity of this new look roster. The scrutiny will largely fall on Harrison Barnes this season, but Matthews' resurgence is the essential piece to the Mavericks' playoff push this reason.
Coming off the Achilles injury this past season, Matthews struggled to find his footing on the offensive end. He shot 38 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc, both career lows. In fact, Matthews was one of four players in the league last season to play over 30 minutes per game while shooting below 39 percent. For lack of a better term: he sucked. He struggled to beat any defender off the dribble, and even if he found himself at the rim, he didn't have the lift to finish in traffic.
The shooting touch that he relied upon so heavily in Portland abandoned him for weeks at a time. "I didn't understand it, because I didn't understand why I was playing as inconsistent as I was. I would workout the night before the game and I would go 100 out of 125 [on three-pointers]," said Matthews at media day.
The Achilles injury pushed Matthews' game to the edge of a cliff. It's a testament to his ungodly work ethic that he even played a full season last year. That maniacal work ethic translates to every minute Matthews plays on the court. It's an absolute grind to play at his level of intensity for an 82-game season. The injury robbed Matthews of an offseason to prepare for that grind and it played a huge role in his struggles last season: "It didn't click to me until post All-Star break that I was tired. I was tired, because I played both ends of the court and I gave you every single thing that I had on both ends. But I've always done that and I've always had the summer to prepare for it. It didn't click to me that I didn't prepare to play the way that I play," said Matthews.
This season the Mavericks' offense lacks an elasticity that has always defined it. The pick-and-rolls won't manifest quite as naturally with Barnes in place of Parsons. The ball may not ping around quite as quickly. That's what makes Matthews resurgence so vital to this offense. His jumper should boomerang back to his previous efficiency, but Matthews ability to attack closeouts and create for others will prevent the starting unit from playing in quicksand.
With their personnel, Dallas should have a top 10 defense, which means they only need an above average offense to make some noise in the playoffs. Matthews' off-the-bounce vibrancy could be the difference between a 12th or 19th ranked offense. The opportunities will be there for him to take on a bigger role, and with the addition of Barnes, he should have a smaller load on defense. "I get to guard my position this time. I finally get to finally guard 2-guards," said Matthews excitedly about the Barnes addition.
It's easy to forget how dynamic Matthews was in Portland. In 2014 he scored more than 16 points per game on 39 percent from three, while being one of five players in the league to hit over 200 treys that season. That kind of output will be required this season for Dallas to breathe easy on offense. "If I wanna do more, then I'm gonna get my ass in the gym and help this team win," said Matthews.
Wes, as always, is up for the challenge. A 2-guard with elite efficiency gives Carlisle another toy to play with on offense.
Mathews didn't have many designed sets for him last year, but he should be a main cog in the offense this season. The spotlight will be on Barnes and his ability to flourish in a new role, and that's reasonable for a 24 year-old with a $94 million contract. However, Matthews has been the better offensive player the last four seasons. He scored at a higher clip than Barnes while playing alongside two ball dominant scorers in Portland. With Barnes, it's a question of whether or not he can produce with a bigger load -- but we've already seen Matthews produce at a relatively high level for a shooting guard. His narrative, much like many past Maverick shooting guards, will be about redemption.
Dallas' success this season will live or die on a top-notch defense supplemented by enough outside shot-making to squeeze by. That philosophy starts with Wes Matthews. He came to Dallas to prove he can overcome one of the worst injuries in basketball, and this season, he'll get his chance to truly revive.