O.J. Mayo: will they or won't they?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What to do with O.J. Mayo?

As the season nears a disappointing conclusion, the Dallas Mavericks face some tough questions in an offseason that will see a sizable chunk of the roster enter free agency. Perhaps no (potential) free agent for Dallas is bigger and more polarizing than O.J. Mayo, the fifth year guard who has looked scintillating at times, and overmatched others.

Mayo is technically under contract for next season, for over $4 million, but can opt out to pursue a larger deal. This is almost universally believed to be what he will do.

I find even outlining the parameters of a discussion for Mayo difficult, because he has had two very different halves of a season. Prior to the All-Star Break, Mayo averaged 17.9 points per game on 13.8 shots, shooting 46.3% from the field. Since the ASB, his numbers have dropped to 11.6 points per game on 10.6 shots, shooting 43.3% from the field. Really, even that undersells just how streaky he's been. Mayo was absolutely volcano-hot in November and the first half of December, before hitting a serious wall. He rebounded somewhat in late January, then plummeted in February, before leveling off to a more consistently vanilla player since.

Obviously, there was a major change in the equation from November to February: the return and gradual recovery of Dirk Nowitzki. Mayo understandably began to defer more, but for some reason the deference also came with dramatically decreased efficiency. While Dirk's presence, in theory, provided more open look and fewer gameplan designs for Mayo, the help didn't manifest with better shooting.

In the end, while there are certainly areas of subtle improvement to point out in Mayo's game, the overall numbers he's put up are almost exactly in line with his career rates. So, how much has he really improved? How much more can he improve? And how much do you pay for that?

Amin Elhassan recently put up this article(don't freak out; it's Insider) dealing with that very subject, ranking Mayo has the 10th best free agent in 2013, and this was his analysis:


10
O.J.Mayo | SG | Player option
2012-13 team: Dallas Mavericks
'12-13 AAV: $4.0
'13-14 AAV: $8.5
AGE: 25
PPG: 16.1
APG: 4.4
RPG: 3.6

The scuttlebutt around the league was that Mayo signed a discounted deal in Dallas in order to preserve team cap space in 2013, with the understanding that he could opt out after the first year of his deal and be "rewarded." Mayo has held up his end of the bargain, putting up his most efficient offensive season. DeMar DeRozan ($9.5 million a year), Rodney Stuckey($8.5 million a year) and Arron Afflalo ($7.5 million a year) are all recent comparables that Mayo will point to as less-talented peers, but I wouldn't give him anything more than a four-year, $34 million deal.

So, he projects an annual salary of $8.5 million, which is probably the very high end of what I'd be comfortable paying Mayo. It may be a conservative estimate of what he'll really get on the open market.

This all happened to coincide with new writer Tim Brown mentioning that he was attempting to use historical PER comparisons to project if and exactly how much Mayo might improve going forward(and I look forward to that future post and hope I'm not blowing up his spot here). Needless to say, the topic of how much Mayo might get offered in the summer yields more consensus than the topic of how much he's really worth.

The following was the result of that conversation:

Tim Brown:

So I tried something today: I found all the guys who had similar PERs to Mayo's in the same years of their careers as his. (So, all the guys with a PER of 14.4-14.8 in the fifth years of their career for this year). Then I went through all their PERs AFTER their 5th year in the league to get a sample of the PERs going forward for guys like Mayo. I figured this could give me a distribution of the likely future for Mayo where I could break down the probability of him improving, getting worse, etc.


You know what's funny though? The guy who stood out by far as most close to OJ in those first five years was Michael Finley.

Alan:

That's interesting. I would have guessed more Cuttino Mobley.

Mayo's nowhere near Finley's career turnover percentage. But there are some similarities in their games, I suppose.

Also Finley owns my Mavs childhood so I'm going to have a difficult time going along with that comp.

Tim Brown:

Mobley did show up too, yeah. So did Lionel Hollins, hilariously.

Jonathan:

Finley had much better statistics than OJ. He had a 19.2 his fifth season. OJ's never been above 15.

Andy:

Am I the only Mayo Believer we got left?

Tim Brown:

I'm still not sure. I did this mostly to try and find out. He's just so...urgh

[to Jon:] Yeah, that's a good point. But Finley had to carry the Mavs way more than OJ did. OJ was averaging plus 18 before Dirk came back.

Andy:

I look at Mayo and I say, here is a guy who can shoot lights out, who can finish in traffic, who can pass really well...and he doesn't do it consistently, and I say, just because most people either have this figured out by then or never will, does that mean he can't?

I guess.

Jonathan:

Maybe I'm biased b/c I grew up with him, but no way you can even compare OJ to Mike Finley. Finley was nice!

Alan:

Finley was still putting up PER's in the 17 range even after Dirk and Nash had emerged, when he wasn't having to take half the team's shots. Mayo now is like Finley in his 30's, when he lost a step...only Finley was still much less mistake-prone.


Andy, what is a Mayo Believer, exactly? Is the belief that he becomes an All-Star? What's the ceiling?

Mayo will start next year at age 26. He's been in the league a half-decade now. When a guy like that, who has been relatively injury-free, and has been given starter minutes, continually posts a PER in the 14 range, like clockwork, it seems pretty likely that's just who he is. That can be a solid-average NBA starter, which I think Mayo is, but I don't think there's much more in there. What makes Mayo extra frustrating is that the "average"-ness(forgive the term; it's been a long week) is achieved because he alternates being pretty good with being invisible.

Andy:

I mean Finn's second highest scoring season, the Mavs were 20-62. I loved Fin, we all did, but some of this is nostalgia--anyone really think Mayo playing without Dirk all season couldn't have had Fin's scoring numbers with as shitty a record? Feels lkely. Also, as you know Alan, Mayo got starter's minutes this year for the first time in there years.

Alan:

OK, but for his career, Mayo has averaged over 33 minutes a game. His PER and his per 36 rate stats this past year are all almost exactly in line with his career PER and per 36 stats.

Andy:

I hear you, Alan. I'll still be hoping that averages here are misleading. After all, he was last a starter at, what, 22? May not tell the whole picture

Tim Brown:

Part of the problem with PER too is that it doesn't account for defense...at all. Like, Battier came up in the Mayo analysis because his PER is low because he's primarily a defender. So, there's that.

Alan:

Like all things in the statistical arena, I think it's best to take from as many reputable sources as possible, so I'm OK with putting Finley in the discussion for Mayo.


But, B-Ref's top comp is Vinny Del Negro. And Basketball Prospetus' is Anthony Peeler.

Tim Brown:

Vinny was in the comp for Mayo. Though, at least for those first 5 years, he wasn't as close as I'd have thought. But again: I'm not super confident about using PER as the main point of comparison

Kirk:

I like the mayo-Finley comp. Heresy alert.... Mayos perfectly suited to be the best player on a bad team. It's what he was for the first twenty games this season. The comp ends when Finley learned how to be effective with other players, something mayo cannot do. Or hasn't.


I talked with rob about mayo a month ago, and it's a big reason why I'm a mayo "hater"... Basically, mayo is the exact same player he's always been. He has so much more talent, but can't seem to tap into it. With consistency at least. Look at how he's attacked the bucket recently.... Not a single lay up. He stops for ass ugly floaters. He drives when he should shoot. Sure he still does so,e nice things and ill be fine if they keep him. I just wouldn't mind seeing him go either.

I've been thinking about Andy's column a lot... At some point they have to sign players and hope. The draft though, the draft is what will matter. It's why I wanted them to tank this year. And like I predicted Dallas will probably just miss out on a player they want. Damn It all.

Alan:

Signing players and hoping. I think this is something we'll likely be discussing A LOT in the coming months, and something we've certainly already scratched the surface on.


Andy has put some great work on the site representing his perspective, and it's one I can understand. I completely get the displeasure over the idea of going after pantheon-dwellers and passing over the guys already in the fold. I completely get the pessimism toward free agency due to the new CBA and recent history. I get it. Frankly, I don't think they have much of a chance at all of getting Dwight or Paul(and yes, without the benefit of hindsight I thought they had a shot at Deron, but that's another discussion).

I would simply suggest that perhaps there is some middle ground there. Between trying to sign the super-duper star and trying to retain the uninspiring young players here now. Between the Chris Paul and the O.J. Mayo. Afterall, and I realize this is an obvious statement, the advantage teams with bird rights have to retain max players goes away when that guy isn't a max player(or isn't one yet).

Andy:

Right, I think we're well set up to have all kinds of viewpoints intelligently put out there. One of the things that my podcast was about--to the extent that it was about anything but whee, can I make a podcast?--was, you know, who are these middle ground guys? ESPN will tell you it's Josh Smith or Brandon Jennings but I have a hard time believing anyone here thinks those guys are worth the extra 4-6 million they'd get each year over OJ...and that's sort of what I'm struggling with. It seems like every guy you might put into that camp, we agree, is too flawed to be put there (which is why they're in that one and not the Chris Paul camp). OJ Mayo is an example of this on the lower side of the scale, where he's not good enough for the money he'll earn. Okay. Is there a guy who is good enough for the money they'll earn where that number is 12 million dollars, or are we really talking about an imaginary player without a lot of flaws who for some reason doesn't get offered the bigger contract he deserves?

So, it seems the conversation on Mayo comes back to what he's going to get offered, versus the possible alternatives.

I don't expect this to be an opinion that absolutely everyone shares, but before considering Mayo as a potential signee, I would take a long, long look at the other names out there first. Whatever fluff pieces come out between now and the summer talking about how much Mayo likes the organization, and how he "took less to play here"(a dubious and common claim), etc, the data on Mayo does not portend future All-Star games. Just because a guy is young, and already here, does that mean he should be a player to build around?

I am very curious to see what the offers for Tyreke Evans will be, as well as some of the players Andy mentions, like Smith and Jennings. Tentatively include Andrew Bynum in that group. I do think Smith is worth $4-6 million more than Mayo(and I think he may start out asking for more than that), and I think Evans, going forward(given his upside), could be as well. However, I'm not sure even it's as simple as saying if a guy is worth X amount more than Mayo. I would put it this way: would you rather overpay for the non-max All-Star, or overpay for the solid starter? If we're being generous with Mayo's value, would you rather overpay for the non-max All-Star, or pay the solid starter approximately what he's worth?

Depending on the player and the fit, I might just say I'd take the latter, in either instance. If we're closing in on the desperate point of "pay a guy and hope", I'm thinking there may very well be better options out there than Mayo.

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