Apr 17, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo (32) looks on during a free throw in the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. The Grizzlies won 91-84. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Around 10:00 PM last night, O.J Mayo announced on his twitter account that he was signing with the Dallas Mavericks. This came as a bit of a surprise, in light of the fact that just a few hours before buzz was circulating that Mayo was asking for something in the neighborhood of $8 million a year.
Precise terms of the contract have not been released, aside from ESPN Dallas writer Jeff Caplan's note that it would be a two-year deal with an option for the second(this is very good news, if true). Is it possible that teams were simply not willing to give Mayo that kind of money, and so his price tag came down?
In lieu of a salary total, we must instead look at just what kind of player O.J Mayo is, on his own merits, and that is not an entirely straightforward task, with what seems to be perpetual cognitive dissonance surrounding an undoubtedly talented but enigmatic player who has taken a fairly unusual route to get to Dallas. So, let's dive in:
O.J Mayo began playing high school ball in Ashland, Kentucky when he was in the seventh grade. I'm not making that up. Apparently, in Kentucky, grade schoolers can play on high school teams, and so by the time Mayo actually got to High School, he was already a veteran of the circuit.
Entering his freshman year of high school, Mayo moved to Ohio to live with his grandfather. Hype had already began to encircle Mayo at this time, as the Cincinnati Enquirer was dispatched to cover his first day of school. He was 15 and already being called "the next LeBron". When his North College Hill team squared off against powerhouse program Oak Hill Academy, a Cincinnati record 16,000+ showed up to watch.
For his senior year in high school, as he was earning cover stories from Dime Magazine, Sports Illustrated and others, Mayo returned to his birth-state of West Virginia to play for Huntington High, his third High School team. Though initially thought to be a feel-good homecoming story, it has since come into question if there were other reasons Mayo moved around so much.
A long-term commit to USC, Mayo arrived in college with enormous expectations that, to be fair, would be next to impossible to live up to. Billed as a potential #1 pick who would elevate the USC program to equal standing with rival UCLA, Mayo accomplished neither, losing to underdog Kansas State in the first round of the tournament and landing in Memphis after a draft-day swap with Kevin Love.
The third overall pick began his NBA career well enough, topping the 30 point mark four times in the month of November, averaging 23 a game on scorching 48% from the field and 42% from three, eliciting predictions of superstardom. Alas, it was all downhill from there. Mayo lost his starting job to defensive ace Tony Allen in his third season, and since that point it has seemed as though Memphis was simply waiting to let him go. After failing to consummate a deadline trade, Memphis did not extend Mayo a qualifying offer this offseason, which made him an unrestricted free agent.
I think the biggest potential hurdle for O.J Mayo might be how exactly he views O.J Mayo. As a teenage phenom, Mayo was showered with praise and adoration. Boosters, agents, and assorted hangers-on have flattered him, profited by him, and it is hard to learn humility when you've never, ever faced any sort of real adversity, just as it is hard to learn fear when you've never faced trepidation. For Dallas fans, we might respectfully hope that O.J is learning these things now. Even when Mayo was entering the league there were whispers that he suffered from an abundance of confidence; that he overestimated his skill and could at times become too invested in his own hype. The talent is undeniable, but there can be no sugar-coating of the fact that a top-5 pick who doesn't earn a qualifying offer is usually considered a bust.
Now, "bust" is a term we see thrown around quite a bit, and I'm not here to attach that label to O.J Mayo. However, for any out there who view Mayo as a future star still or are expecting him to "rescue" Dallas as a proper second scoring option, I would advise you drastically lower your expectations. Mayo did perhaps the greatest disservice to his fans by putting up a pretty raw statline his rookie year, averaging 18.5 points a game. Sometimes, rookies who score like that are immediately given the trajectory of All-Star, but when you look closer the sheen comes off even those numbers. Memphis was a 22-win team beginning a 24-win season with rookie O.J, and if you'll allow a slight exaggeration, their offense consisted of "Rudy Gay iso, takes long fadeaway; O.J Mayo iso, takes long fadeaway, rinse repeat". Mayo was able to play lots of minutes, hold the ball about as much as he liked, and so he learned very little about how to operate in a complex NBA offense or how to develop useful secondary skills.
Most of Mayo's offense comes from 16 feet and out. Nearly 65% of his shots, infact, and close to have of those are the dreaded "long 2's", which Mayo can make but can't Dirk-make. Jason Terry has averaged between 45 and 47 percent on long 2's for the last half-decade. Dirk, one of the league's best, shoots over 50 percent. Mayo has barely cracked 40 the last three seasons. This is why Mayo has never posted exceptional true shooting percentages and what has just generally dragged down his offensive efficiency. The concern here is two-fold: 1) does O.J Mayo realize this is a not a high-quality shot for him, and 2) does it mean that for all his hype he is not enough of an athlete to regularly get closer in?
O.J Mayo has stated his belief that he can play point guard as well as the 2, but his assist/turnover rates have not progressed in his time in the NBA. He is also a fairly pedestrian rebounder, and his defensive numbers range from mediocre to terrible(Memphis has allowed fewer points per 100 possessions with Mayo not on the floor every year since 2008). So, presumably, if Mayo is going to make his mark, it will be as a scorer. It is possible that Dallas eyes him as a spot-up shooting ace, though Mayo's numbers from deep are just a tad shy of exceptional. That would be a fairly un-sexy use of the 24 year old. Rick Carlisle has a serious challenge ahead of him in trying to integrate the youthful Darren Collison, along with O.J Mayo, into an offense that had basically run itself for years with the backcourt duo of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Jokes about AARP cards will no longer be in play, but will Mavs fans' adjust to the growing pains that come with a more inexperienced team?