Throwback Thursday: The rise and fall of O.J. Mayo

O.J. Mayo displayed much promise early in his career. In high school, scouts declared him to be the next big thing. Now, he’s suspended and out of the NBA. Let’s take a dive into the Grizzlies history vault, shall we?

Hype brings immense pressure. Want to talk about hype? Let’s talk O.J. Mayo. Back in 2005, Sports Illustrated wrote an article on him titled “The Next One” – comparing him to LeBron James. In high school, Slam Magazine had O.J. Mayo on the cover with headlines, “Who’s Next?” and “The Future is Now! OJ Mayo is realness.”

Now, that’s hype.

For quite some time, he showed that he was worth the hype. He also fell rather quickly. In this special “Throwback Thursday,” let’s take a look at the rise and fall of former phenom O.J. Mayo.

The Rise

The high-school circuit is where it all began. O.J. Mayo dominated, averaging 29.2 points and winning a state title in each of his three seasons at Huntington High.

In college, he played at USC (University of Southern California). Aside from a recruiting scandal, Mayo played quite well. He scored 20.7 points a game but averaged more turnovers (3.5) than assists (3.3).

Going into the draft, many scouts knew that he could score and shoot at an elite level, but he had poor decision-making and couldn’t attack the rim. Despite the negativity, the star factor was still there.

The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted O.J. Mayo in 2008, the same year Memphis selected Kevin Love. After the Grizzlies’ pick, I thought they were destined for constant mediocrity. Until, the teams swapped picks. For the first time, Memphis had a player whose hype screamed “superstar”. Though it came at the cost of fan-favorite Mike Miller, many experts applauded the Grizzlies front office. ESPN’s Chad Ford said this about the trade for Mayo:

The trade to get Mayo wasn’t perfect for the Grizzlies. It cost them an excellent player in Mike Miller and a top prospect in Kevin Love, and it forced them to take back a contract that was actually worse than Brian Cardinal’s — the dreaded Marko Jaric contract. But the Grizzlies ended up with a player who has the potential to be better than Love, and they actually broke about even in the deal financially. … They now have to figure out a few more deals (they are overloaded at the guard position and undermanned in the frontcourt), but overall I think Wallace did well, coming away with the third-best player in the draft, one of the few guys this year with real All-Star potential.

The O.J. Mayo generated buzz and excitement in Memphis for the first time since their 2005-06 playoff run. O.J. Mayo delivered, at first.

Future Grizz star

Mayo started his rookie year with a bang. In his first month, he tallied four 30-point games and averaged 21.9 points in 17 games. He played in all 82 games, averaging 18.5 points on 38.4 percent shooting from downtown and 3.2 assists.

He didn’t win Rookie of the Year, but he made the All-Rookie 1st Team alongside Derrick Rose (the Rookie of the Year), Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez and Michael Beasley. Pretty good company, if you ask me.

The sky was the limit for O.J. Mayo.

In his sophomore year, his scoring numbers dropped (17.5). However, the future was still bright for this Grizzlies team. With a young core of Mike Conley, Mayo, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol – things were looking up. Memphis acquired Zach Randolph as well, adding to the hype. They had the makings of a team that rivaled the OKC Thunder’s trio of Westbrook, Durant and Harden.

Until catastrophe struck for the young star.

The Fall: Walkin’ (out of) Memphis

O.J. Mayo’s struggles began in his third year in the league. After struggling to find his shot and the emergence of offseason acquisition Tony Allen, coach Lionel Hollins sent Mayo to the bench.

On top of that, he got in an altercation with Tony Allen on a flight. Shortly after, he was suspended for using dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). For anyone wondering – that’s steroids.

It was a difficult time for Mayo, coming off the bench for the first time in his career. His scoring average dropped to 11.3, but his 41-percent shooting from downtown proved he could be a reliable scorer off the bench in the playoffs.

The next year, Mayo maintained a bench role and was heavily involved in trade talks. By “heavily,” I mean there were two different deals that SHOULD have happened. For reasons unbeknownst to the general population, both fell through.

The first came at the 2011 trade deadline. Mayo was headed to Indiana for Josh McRoberts and a 2011 first-round pick. A snag in the deal haulted things, and the trade deadline passed without action.

The next season, Mayo was supposedly being dealt to Boston for Ray Allen. Once again, nothing happened.

Editors note: At this time, we pause for a moment of silence to think about the joyous excitement of Ray Allen in Memphis.

After his fourth year filled with stellar play off the bench, Mayo was headed for a big payday – until the playoffs. In a seven-game series against the Clippers, he averaged 8.9 points per game on 27.4 percent shooting from the field and 29.2 percent from downtown.

Yikes.

Free Fallin’ out of the league

Mayo went on to play a year in Dallas, averaging 15.3 points on a career-best 40.7 percent shooting from beyond-the-arc. The next year, he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a 3-year, $24M dollar deal.

In his three years with Milwaukee, Mayo averaged 10.6 points – a sure sign of a veteran scorer off the bench.

O.J became a free agent last summer. After the Chandler Parsons acquisition and re-signing Mike Conley, I had the following tweet ready to go: “Wouldn’t mind the Grizzlies signing OJ Mayo *eyes emoji*“.

Enter: WOJ BOMB.

It’s a shame that a young player with oodles of potential is now out of the league because of drugs. Let’s hope O.J. Mayo can make a comeback and contribute in the NBA.

While he’s serving his two-year suspension, it looks like he’s finding himself:

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