After four seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies and another with the Dallas Mavericks, O.J. Mayo picked up the first sizable contract of his career. The Milwaukee Bucks agreed to pay him $24 million over the next three years to play some shooting guard—and possibly to blossom into the star he was supposed to be when he entered the league.
Mayo was drafted third overall in 2008, after Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, but before Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Three of those players are distinctly near the top of the league in their respective positions, while Beasley remains a lost cause.
But here we sit five years later and Mayo remains an enigma. He's the only one of those top five yet to be pinned down.
Obviously the Grizzlies thought he could be a star, trading up on draft day to land Mayo, relinquishing the rights to Love in the process.
Love became a rebounding, floor-stretching madman in the meantime, while Mayo seems destined to be a spot-up shooter who has to be motivated into playing the solid defense that we've seen at times.
So is that the reality that Mayo has settled into? Is his destiny to be a rich man's J.J. Redick, or is there still room for improvement in his game?
Where He Is
2013 was by far Mayo's best season in years, and it's a good thing for the Mavericks—otherwise they would have been even worse off than they were. It wasn't so much him maturing as it was the realization that he was playing for his next contract and once again stepping into a starting role.
Dallas gave him the responsibility that Memphis was hesitant to give to him, and he flourished.
His 15.3 points per game are dwarfed by what he showed off in the first two years he spent as the second and third option in his rookie and sophomore seasons.
However, he shot 45 percent after toiling just above 40 percent during his two seasons on the bench with the Grizzlies, notched a career-high three-point rate at 40.7 percent, and at 55.6 percent, Mayo had the highest true shooting percentage of his career.
Where He Could Go
Mayo's not a young player anymore.
Generally speaking, basketball players make the biggest improvements between the ages of 18 and 24; the college years and the first few in the NBA, depending on how many years they actually spend in college.
A player's body matures, he learns what other teams will be throwing at him, and he generally works on his game. From there it's gradual improvement into a player's prime, before he turns 32 or 33 and starts to slow down.
Obviously this isn't the case with every player ever to lace up sneakers, but it's a pretty noticeable trend.
Mayo is turning 26 in November, so it's safe to say that he's entering his prime. He's as fast as he'll ever be, and his body will likely be at its best over the next four seasons. If he were ever going to become an All-Star, this is the time.
What Mayo can make large improvements upon, however, is his approach to the game.
His desire to play defense, the passes he makes and doesn't make and his shot selection can improve with the right mentality and the right head coach.
The Right Situation?
Like most players in the NBA, Mayo could thrive in the right situation. So, are the seemingly directionless, confused Milwaukee Bucks the right situation?
Defensively they're perfect for Mayo, at least as far as masking his flaws is concerned.
With the problem he has staying motivated, having a rim-protecting big man in Larry Sanders and a shutdown wing defender in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will help take some pressure off defensively.
However, it seems that he's going to be one of the focal points of the offense.
Mayo has shown he can handle the ball, but not quite handle all the duties of a ball-dominant shooting guard. His ideal situation would be next to a pass-first point guard (which Brandon Jennings is not) as the primary wing scorer.
Not only would that allow for him to end up in spot-up situations often throughout the game, he would be responsible for himself first and the rest of the team second.
Mayo isn't capable of being the most important offensive distributor on the floor. He showed that coming off the bench in Memphis, and he's shown the opposite when there's a solid squad around him.
There's milk left to be squeezed out of Mayo; it just doesn't seem as if Milwaukee is the right place to maximize his potential.
What should concern the Bucks is that Mayo has now left two teams in two years via free agency, and not only did neither team attempt to bring him back, but neither team so much as shrugged a shoulder at his departure.