O.J.’s Return: Bucks vs. Mavs and a chance to revisit
DALLAS — O.J. Mayo was the centerpiece of an experiment that the Mavs have vowed to never revisit, the ‘One-Year Contract Concept.’ It worked for him for half a year, but then near-All-Star-level effort devolved into ‘didn’t show up.’ Mayo is in Dallas with the Bucks tonight, a fair time to revisit what went right and wrong with the Mavs and Mayo.
The Mavs, having failed in the summer of 2012 to catch the “big fish,” instead found themselves a bargain on the discount rack in O.J. Mayo, a former lottery pick who showed so much star potential in four seasons in Memphis before fading. The initial view, as they nabbed him for just $4 million for one season (arguably half what some thought his market value might be): Serve as a Jason Terry replacement and become the second scorer, easing the offensive burden on Dirk Nowitzki.
Mayo’s early-season numbers suggest success, but they came while Nowitzki missed the first few months of the season with injury. The Uberman’s absence allowed Mayo limitless room to perform, and he did so at nearly an All-Star level, averaging almost 20 points per game and making a blistering 51 percent of his three-point attempts.
How much freedom did Mayo have? A nearly career-high usage rate of 24.4 percent from October through December. And the one blemish, a 16.9 percent turnover rate during that stretch that the Mavs spent a great deal of time trying to fix.
Even his finishing numbers suggest success at a more moderate level: 15.3 points (almost right at his career average) with 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.6 turnovers per game.
But numbers don’t tell the story of how in the end, Mayo responded poorly to the pairing with Dirk and, shockingly, seemed to respond poorly to the urging of coach Rick Carlisle. To begin the season, Mayo said he put his game “in the coach’s hands.” The results spoke for themselves.
By the end of the season?
In Game 81, Dallas suffered a 103-97 home loss to the Grizzlies in which Mayo failed to score in the first half and finished with two points on 1-of-6 shooting with four turnovers in 28 minutes before a fourth-quarter benching.
“He didn’t show up,” said a pained Carlisle. “Wasn’t into it the first half. We showed him some film at halftime where he virtually was just standing around defensively. I said, ‘Hey, we need you.’
So what happened in Game 82?
An encore performance, a lackadaisical showing that left Carlisle sounding like a hurt parent enveloped in disappointment. Mayo finished with five points, 2-of-6 field goals, two rebounds, three assists and three turnovers.
“I love O.J. as a kid, as a person,” Carlisle later said. “I spent more than more time with him this year than probably any other player I’ve ever had. With him, I’m a little like a Little League dad. I want him to do well so badly that sometimes it gets the better of me. But that’s OK, because if you care that much, it’s never a bad thing.”
You can almost neatly divide O.J.’s season into thirds: the first 33 games while Nowitzki was out and working his way back to being a starter, the 26 games where both Nowitzki and Mayo were starters before Mike James took over the point, and the final 23 games of the season. In each, we see a downward trajectory in Mayo’s scoring and usage, but an overall upward trajectory in his assist: turnover ratio and other playmaking metrics.
The division of Mayo’s season into thirds also highlights the at least three vastly different roles Mayo was asked to fulfill that season. In the beginning, he was asked to play far above his ability as a primary offensive breadwinner for a team without a superstar. Then, he was forced to refit his game as a sometimes sidekick to a uniquely-gifted power forward who was working his way back into dominant shape. Finally, Mayo was tasked with the role of part-time playmaker to a limited, shoot-first point guard. All the while there had been little-to-no grumbling from the only player to start every game for the Mavericks this season. … until the end, when his effort did his grumbling for him.
Over the last 11 games, Mayo averaged 8 points, 33.7-percent shooting, 4.4 assists and 2.5 turnovers. And with that, he entered free agency, choosing to pass on the $4.2 million option that was on the Mavs table for 2013-14. And he got himself a better deal, a three-year, $27-million contract in Milwaukee (where’s he’s averaging 14.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds) fueled by his work in Dallas even with the late-season oddities.
So the ‘One-Year Contract Concept” served as a stepping stone for Mayo even as it served as an millstone the Mavs voluntarily hung around their own necks. Dallas learned something from it all … and we are sure that in the end, the teacher in Rick Carlisle hopes O.J. Mayo learned something, too.