JET is gone, long live...The Juice?
Not exactly the most stirring rallying cry the NBA has ever seen, but hey, the Dallas Mavericks' roster isn't anything to get all that fired up about at this point, anyway. They seemingly had grand plans to bring in Deron Williams and (possibly) Dwight Howard this summer to form their own "Big Three" around Dirk Nowtizki.
But they whiffed on both—Mark Cuban's absence on account of "Shark Tank" may or may not have impacted D-Will's decision—and wound up with a slew of what might otherwise be described as "spare parts," chief among them O.J. Mayo.
In name, anyway. Elton Brand is over the hill, Chris Kaman is known as much for his hunting exploits as for his prowess on the court, Darren Collison is criminally underrated at the point and Dahntay Jones is...meh.
But Mayo, at least, sounds like a star. He's been on the national radar since his middle school days, when he was moonlighting as a prep phenom across state lines in Kentucky. He came into the league as the third pick in the 2008 NBA draft, which also featured the likes of Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, and averaged 18 points per game through his first two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now, after two years spent toiling on the bench in the Music City, Mayo will once again have the opportunity to prove himself as a starter, this time while (presumably) filling Jason Terry's shoes on a playoff contender.
To be clear, Mayo would be hard-pressed to make up for JET's departure to the Boston Celtics. Terry enjoyed a spectacular eight-season stint in Big D, the last five of which saw him serve primarily as a scoring sixth man. He was an integral member of two Western Conference champions, including the Mavs squad that topped the Miami Heat in 2011.
More importantly for Mayo, Terry was a superb sidekick for Nowitzki. His ability to shoot from the perimeter (38.8 percent on threes in Dallas), handle the ball up top and drive to the basket made him a perfect partner in the two-man game for Dirk and even spawned a TrueHoop blog of that very name.
Which is to say, those shoes O.J. will be looking to fill are bigger and less comfortable than some might expect. As Rob Mahoney noted in July, JET was more efficient in Dallas as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a spot-up shooter and an isolation scorer than Mayo was in Memphis.
Those are all situations, by the way, that the Mavs employed heavily in their offense. Whether they continue to do so with Mayo essentially taking Terry's place remains to be seen, though as head coach Rick Carlisle recently told Bryan Gutierrez of Mavs.com:
"Now, there are certain things that we did with Jet that we want to do with O.J...We’ve got to be careful about fitting these parts into a set system. One of the things about our franchise is that we are resourceful and we adjust. In this case, we’ve got to adjust to the people that we have. We obviously want to do a lot of the same things.”
Mayo is well aware of the success Nowitzki and Terry enjoyed as partners in crime, particularly in the pick-and-roll. As he said on the Ben and Skin Show on ESPN Radio in Dallas:
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“We’ve seen over the course of [Dirk's] career, it’s impossible to stop him...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.”
And it's not as though the Mayo-Terry comparison isn't still appropriate. Both are scoring guards who can man either back court spot, handle and shoot, pile up points in bunches and are versatile enough to start or come off the bench.
Terry, of course, has proven to be a superior reserve (to which his Sixth Man of the Year Award will surely attest) and remains a better shooter and passer than Mayo.
But, in Mayo's defense, his role often fluctuated during his four years in Memphis. He was a productive starter who often jacked up ill-advised shots for bad Grizzlies squads before Lionel Hollins moved him to the bench during the 2010-11 season, at which point the team took off.
Such would suggest that Mayo isn't fit for starting duty on a playoff team. However, this view doesn't fully account for the circumstances that led to Mayo's "demotion." Here's what Mayo told the Ben and Skin Show:
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“The dynamics of our team had to change. 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 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."
Not surprisingly, Mayo, who'd been "The Man" for most of his basketball life, was none too pleased:
"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. 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.”
Maybe this suggests that Mayo was (and perhaps still is) immature and entitled. Or, maybe these comments point to a competitive kid who simply wasn't used to the role in which he was cast, and whose stats suffered as a result.
Whatever the case may be, let's not forget that Mayo is younger, more athletic and a better defender than Terry. His youth and vitality will allow for a greater dynamism by Dirk's side compared to that offered by the 35-year-old JET, even if the rapport between the two never measures up to what Nowitzki shared with Terry.
And it probably won't. Mayo's contract was negotiated to allow the Mavs to use him as a stopgap at shooting guard and for him to use this season as an opportunity to showcase his skills on a bigger stage. It wouldn't exactly be a shock to anyone's system, then, if Mayo did his time in Big D, opted out of the second year of his deal and went fishing for more dough next summer.
To Mayo's credit, he's been proactive in establishing himself in Dallas for the time being. According to Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, Mayo signed with the Mavs after consulting with Chauncey Billups, another highly-drafted, late-blooming combo guard. Billups recommended that Mayo turn his game over to Rick Carlisle, whose tutelage helped to turn Mr. Big Shot into a bona fide All-Star and consummate winner during his days with the Detroit Pistons.
Thus far, it appears as though Mayo has followed Chauncey's advice:
Who's the better player right now?
“My whole thing is, give my game to coach and let him get me better in areas that he feels I can help the team. That was part of the reason I came here a month early, just to get acclimated to the coaching staff, the city and continuing to get better."
Surely, Carlisle knows a thing or two about how to mold Mayo's game to better fit with Nowitzki's, and has passed along more than a few nuggets of wisdom to Mayo's since he first arrived in the Metroplex. At the same time, Carlisle understands that, as similar as Mayo and Terry may seem at first glance, they're not the same player:
“There are going to be a lot of comparisons to Jason Terry because he’s going to be filling that position in a large part, but O.J. is a different player. One of the things we’ve got to be careful about is we had great success [Jason] Kidd, Jet and a lot of the guys that have been here, but the guys who come in are who they are. We’ve got to take who they are and their abilities and plug them into our system."
Mayo isn't short on abilities, either. He's a 37.5 percent three-point shooter for his career and should see the rest of his numbers pick up as he re-adjusts to a more comfortable starting role.
Those proficiencies should suit Mayo well while playing next to a future Hall-of-Famer like Dirk. So, too, should his attitude about playing for Nowitzki as much as playing with him:
“I want to do well for him because that’s what he deserves. I want to do well for myself and the organization, but he really deserves to have hard workers and committed players around him. That’s what he’s brought to the game.”
O.J. Mayo may not be Jason Terry, but with his skill set, star potential and apparent humility, he could, nonetheless, turn out to be an effective hardwood companion for Nowitzki, short-term or otherwise.