O.J. Mayo looked poised to become a household name after a rookie year in which he averaged 18.5 points, and he still looked on pace when he scored a more efficient 17.5 per contest during his sophomore campaign.
That career path went south when the Memphis Grizzlies began using Mayo as their sixth man, a decision that had as much to do with Tony Allen's defensive prowess as anything involving Mayo.
With the reduction in his role, Mayo looked more and more like a marginally efficient role player than any kind of star. With a change of scenery and an opportunity to return to prominence with the Dallas Mavericks, there's buzz surrounding the shooting guard for the first time in a long time, at least if you listen to team owner Mark Cuban, ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon quoted:
"I think he can be a star," said Cuban, who insists he sees a long-term future for Mayo in Dallas. "And I think O.J. knows that this is his make-or-break, who-am-I-really-going-to-be-in-this-league year. Coach (Rick Carlisle) is going to give him that opportunity. We'll see what happens."
Cuban isn't just making noise. He very well may have come away with an epic steal of a signing, and the Mavs may be contending for titles again because of it.
Here's a look at five reasons to be so optimistic about Mayo's prospects in Dallas.
We all knew Rick Carlisle was one of the game's best all-around coaches, but it turns out he's also been known to work wonders with young players attempting to take their games to the next level.
ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon reports that Carlisle's success cultivating talent was a decisive factor when O.J. Mayo was weighing his options as a free agent:
Mayo said one of the reasons he chose Dallas over teams that were offering more money—albeit not the lucrative, long-term deal he hoped to get—was because of Carlisle's reputation for developing young players. Mayo specifically cited the impact Carlisle made on Chauncey Billups' career in Detroit, which Billups emphasized while encouraging Mayo to play for Carlisle.
Carlisle has that rare ability to adopt a no-nonsense approach while also affording his players a degree of professionalism and respect. For a young star-in-the-making still trying to find his way, that combination is essential.
Mayo will know where Carlisle stands, but he'll also know he ultimately stands behind him.
Don't be at all surprised to see Mayo doing more of the little things, building upon his scoring ability with the all-around game you'd expect from a superstar. Carlisle will make Mayo and the rest of the Mavs better—he's done it before.
If nothing else changed, a starting job alone might be enough to set O.J. Mayo back on track.
He put up excellent numbers in his first two NBA seasons, the two seasons in which he just happened to be the Memphis Grizzlies' starting 2-guard. It wasn't just that Mayo yielded the additional production you'd expect from the extra minutes—his efficiency was better as a starter as well.
There are any number of possible explanations for the incongruity.
Perhaps the extra time on the floor took some pressure off Mayo and made him feel less need to score right away. Perhaps the opportunity to play alongside superior talent ensured he had a few more open looks.
Or, maybe he just resented playing a sixth-man role and stopped working as hard.
Whatever the case may be, Mayo's track record suggests that a return to the starting lineup is a very good thing.
He played under 27 minutes a game for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, and some players just aren't especially good at developing an in-game rhythm when playing for shorter bursts of minutes. It's one thing if you've been developed as a role player, but Mayo clearly had something different in mind after spending his first two seasons as such a prominent piece of the Grizzlies' rotation.
With increased playing time, Mayo can let his offense come to him rather than trying to force shots and make the most of his limited exposure.
He'll quietly space the floor when it's someone else's turn to create plays, and he'll be ready to act when it's his.
Though O.J. Mayo holds a player option for a second season with the Dallas Mavericks, he'll have the opportunity to once again make his case for a lucrative long-term contract in the event he declines that option.
If he struggles this season and loses his starting job, he'll probably stick around for another season and try to rebuild his market value.
Needless to say, he's hoping it doesn't come to that. If Mayo can successfully re-establish himself as an up-and-coming star, it won't be all that hard for him to cash in on a big-time deal. This may not be a do-or-die season for Mayo, but it's a season he'll be taking just as seriously.
It just might dictate the trajectory of his career, and there's a reasonably good chance it will determine just how much money he can make playing basketball.
The 24-year-old has another two or three years to cash in on his prime, but it will only get harder and harder to convince teams he's worth long-term money. Now is the time to have a career season, and Mayo knows it.
From Michael Finley to Jason Terry, there's no shortage of evidence for what Dirk Nowitzki can mean to his shooting guards. His ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor and exploit one-on-one matchups draws plenty of defensive attention.
In turn, guys who can shoot from the perimeter will have plenty of opportunities to do so. Even Jason Kidd turned into a spot-up, three-point shooter with the Mavs, and that had a lot to do with the kind of ball movement Nowitzki enables.
Mayo played with some solid post scorers in Memphis, but there's no question Nowitzki constitutes a far greater threat than either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph.
Even if Mayo isn't quite ready to be the go-to scorer, he won't have to be in Dallas. Dirk has that taken care of, and O.J. will be better off for it.
Yes, the Dallas Mavericks have a handful of solid scoring options, but they don't have many guys capable of going off and taking games over the way O.J. Mayo can.
Outside of Dirk Nowitzki, most of the Mavs' supporting cast is capable of chipping in with 15 points here and there, but you probably won't see Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Shawn Marion or Vince Carter in the top 20 all that often this season.
They'll contribute, but they'll do so steadily.
Mayo, on the other hand, has a scorer's mentality along with the talent and athleticism to do something with it.
He won't replace Dirk as the guy who takes the clutch shots, but he'll be the Plan B option more often than not.