O.J. Mayo's prep-to-pros path may have seemed derailed by an underwhelming year at USC, but it had little impact on his draft stock. After years of hype and a tag as the next great phenom, Mayo was selected with the third pick in the 2008 draft, and has been playing catch-up ever since.
Mayo isn't at all a bad player, but instead merely a victim to public overestimation; he was always supposed to be better than he currently is, and there's hope yet that Mayo (who is only 24 years old) may soon live up to his initial promise. The likelihood of him fulfilling that potential as a member of the Dallas Mavericks is about as high as it could be anywhere else, but there's quite a bit to be done before Mayo is ready to make his claim as a legitimate star.
The right running mate
The Memphis Grizzlies teams that Mayo has been an integral part of over the last two seasons were formidable in their own right, but perhaps a bit unimaginative in terms of their offensive orientation. So many possessions in Memphis ended with Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay or Mayo himself attempting to create in isolation, and despite their recent scoring struggles, the Mavericks are a fair bit more diverse in terms of their execution.
Mayo will immediately take on a prominent offensive role in Dallas, and will be situated to work directly with Dirk Nowitzki. That's a gold mine for a guard with Mayo's skill set; Nowitzki has opened up the game for Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea in recent years, and affords his pick-and-roll partners ample room to operate by way of his dead-eye shooting.
Nowitzki's defenders can't afford to leave him for a single moment, and thus Mayo should have more open driving lanes and opportunities for open pull-up jumpers than he has had in years past.
More minutes and a more central offensive role are both great for a player in Mayo's situation, but it's the added efficiency that comes with playing with someone like Nowitzki that could wind up making the most significant difference.
Learning to make plays
Mayo is a prime example of a player who is a good passer, but not a good playmaker; his technical skill is good and he manages to set up his teammates relatively well, but he still doesn't have a good feel of when to shoot and when to pass. Iso situations were particularly horrible for the altruistic side of Mayo's game, and if he's going to fully develop into a high-functioning combo guard, he'll need to improve his decision-making.
That sounds simple enough, but it requires both freedom and discipline. Mayo experienced both as a member of the Grizzlies, in a sense, but his freedom came within a more rigid structure and the ensuing discipline often relegated ball-handling duties to less-suited teammates.
He was in need of a fresh start, whether it came in Dallas or Charlotte, but the Mavericks are positioned well to hone in on Mayo's most productive skills while sharpening his basketball instincts. Rick Carlisle isn't often praised for his work in player development, but the flow of the offense in Dallas alone should help Mayo better understand how to use his passing ability.
Building across the board
Not to oversimplify things, but Mayo needs to be better if he's ever to become a star. He's currently a solid scorer, but one who has never averaged more than 16.9 points per 36 minutes. He's a decent passer, but as is mentioned above, he lacks the instincts to be a more regular ball-handler. He's a fine on-ball defender, but could be better at trailing his man around screens.
Each of Mayo's strengths leaves room for improvement, making his current game equally versatile and underwhelming.
It's not an easy process to build one's game outward, but right now Mayo is entrenched in the no-man's land between role player and star. He doesn't have any high-level skill to lean on and center his game around, but the foundation for across-the-box score production maintains what's left of his hype and potential. Now it's up to Mayo himself to make good on that promise.