O.J. Mayo Primed for Breakout Season?
Numerous teams around the NBA know the feeling: Hustling summer after summer, searching to fill an undermanned position that is seemingly a gaping hole on the roster year after year.
For the Dallas Mavericks, finding a solution to the gap at the shooting guard position has been a difficult feat for quite some time. Seemingly yearly since Michael Finley was amnestied before the start of the 2005 season, Dallas has continuously searched for a competent replacement at two-guard and consistently come up short.
For the first time since Finley, an All-Star during his time in Dallas, donned a Mavericks’ jersey over half a decade ago, the Mavs look they may have finally found a legitimate starter at the shooting guard position.
With the signing of former Memphis Grizzlies’ sixth man O.J. Mayo this offseason, both Dallas and the former number three overall pick seem ecstatic about joining forces.
“I felt like [Dallas] was the best situation for me,” Mayo told the Ben and Skin Show on ESPN Radio in Dallas. “They have a good team, they have a great player in Dirk Nowitzki, they have a terrific owner with Mark Cuban. Coach [Rick] Carlisle is unbelievable, I watched him since he coached in Indiana. After seeing Jason Kidd and Jason Terry go their separate ways, I felt it was a good opportunity for me – a young guard – to go and compete.”
Out with the old and in with the new seems to have been taken literally by the Mavericks’ brass this summer.
In step Mayo, 24, and former Indiana Pacers’ point guard Darren Collison, 24, to replace hardened veterans Jason Kidd, 39, and Jason Terry, 34, in the lineup next season. It’s still a question mark whether younger will equate to better but Mayo is confident he and Collison have the potential to be a potent backcourt duo.
“I think we’ll fit great together,” Mayo said of Collison. “He’s a big time competitor. I’ve been playing against him since our rivalry days of USC and UCLA. He’s a great point guard. Even through pickup games and open gym we would call him coach because he has a real high basketball IQ and he gets the job done.”
Another benefit to acquiring Mayo is the four-year vet’s versatility in being able to play both guard positions. While Mayo and Collison will assuredly spent most of their time in tandem on the court, Mayo is also proven to be capable of spelling Collison in spurts at the point guard position. In Memphis, both Mayo and the Grizzlies had success with the 6-4 guard playing multiple roles on the team.
Even though the Grizzlies had success (making the playoffs in each of the past two seasons), statistically Mayo’s numbers on the floor took a hit. After starting at shooting guard in his first two seasons in Memphis, Mayo was the first to come off the bench in each of the last two years.
Not coincidentally, Mayo’s numbers have dropped from being an 18-point-per-game scorer on 45 percent shooting between 2008-2010 (163 starts), to averaging less than 12 points per contest on less than 41 percent shooting over the last two seasons (17 starts). The key difference between those two stretches being that Memphis was lottery bound in Mayo’s first two seasons, but subsequently made the postseason in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with Mayo providing pop off the bench.
“The dynamics of our team had to change,” Mayo said. “It’s hard to play with five scorers on the floor, there’s not enough basketball to go around. Our bench was struggling at the time, so Coach [Lionel] Hollins thought it was best if I move to the bench and help the scoring load off the bench. To be more aggressive offensively, we moved Tony Allen into the two guard position as a defender to take some of the pressure off Rudy [Gay] and Mike [Conley] on the defensive end.
“At the end of the day I wasn’t happy with the change because you want to start, it’s part of your competitive nature,” Mayo explained. “[But] it happened to work and Coach Hollins wants to win as bad as the players, so I didn’t take it as a personal threat or anything. It was best for the team and it meant less minutes so my stats went down.”
One of the perks of joining the Mavericks is getting the opportunity to play with a former NBA Most Valuable Player and current elite scorer in Dirk Nowitzki. Especially given his penchant for knocking down three-pointers, the pick-and-roll between Mayo and Nowitzki will likely be a key component of the Mavericks’ offense next season.
“We’ve seen over the course of his career, it’s impossible to stop [Nowitzki],” Mayo said. “We played at Dallas four times a year, the pick and roll between Jason Terry and Dirk is hard to stop. Getting the opportunity to play the pick and roll with Dirk will enhance my game and definitely keep the team at a high level.”
The first person to break the news of Mayo’s signing with Dallas via Twitter, Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban has already had multiple conversations with the team’s offseason acquisition. It’s apparent that Mayo believes that kind of relationship with his owner was an important factor in his decision-making this summer.
“Yes, [Cuban's] a great guy,” Mayo said. “The first week signing with Dallas, [Cuban] texted me and tweeted me and was very involved with my decision along with Coach Carlisle and Mr. Nelson. They were all great meetings every time and It just felt like the perfect fit.”
Although plenty of teams reportedly had interest in acquiring his services, Mayo came to terms with Dallas because of the opportunity to start for a contending team. The pieces the Mavericks were able to acquire (Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand) in such a quick turnaround after the Deron Williams debacle helped sway Mayo’s decision.
“Yes,” Mayo said when asked if he left money on the table to join the Mavericks, “but I’m about winning and my contract worked great for the front office and Mr. Cuban. At the same time I felt the foundation of the team was still there and we definitely stand as one of the better teams in the league.”
Remaining flexible for the summer of 2013 was a key factor in Mayo’s two year, $8.3 million deal. If he has a breakout 2012-13 season with Dallas, Mayo can opt-out next summer and try to garner a heftier paycheck on the open market.
Mayo delivering in his first season in Dallas and potentially opting out afterwards is exactly what the Mavericks are banking on.
Even with a handful of quality additions this offseason, a top spot in the Western Conference seems like a long shot for these Mavericks next season. The Los Angeles Lakers have rearmed with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are a year more experienced and these two teams appear destined to meet in the Conference Finals.
That being said, the bevy of talent Dallas added this summer, especially Mayo, give the Mavericks a chance to be one of those dangerous squads other teams would rather avoid come playoff time. With a likely starting five that features Kaman, Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Mayo and Collison, Dallas is formidable at every position and primed, when healthy, to be a difficult out in the playoffs next season.
For the Mavericks, the hope is that Mayo rediscovers the offensive efficiency he showed during his first two seasons in the NBA, while also displaying the maturity that helped him excel in a reserve role.
Having a head coach like Rick Carlisle, with an established knack for putting his players in the best position to succeed on the court, certainly helps that sentiment. Although with Mayo, a player who possesses a quality offensive repertoire along with solid playmaking skills and capable defense, unlocking the 24-year-old’s true potential shouldn’t exactly require reinventing the wheel.