Every NBA team has a go-to guy, and there’s really only room for one. And it’s not always about taking a last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the ball when things are getting tense in the fourth; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting sloppy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally, or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions. Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line? From #30 to #1, these are the League’s best go-to guys…
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Just like Rip Hamilton, one of Mayo’s biggest obstacles in cracking the NBA’s elite as a go-to guy is that his spot on his own team isn’t secure. He spent the better part of last season wrestling top dog status away from Rudy Gay, and just when he seemed locked in being the “A” to Rudy’s “B,” here comes Allen Iverson, a man who — despite what he says in press conferences — has grown accustomed to running his own ship for the last 15 years. For Mayo, that makes establishing consistency and trust amongst his teammates as The Man in Memphis that much harder.
When he is entrenched as the go-to guy, Mayo (18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.2 apg) is one of the more talented young’uns in the League in that role. He has a reliable jumper inside the arc — he shot 44.6% on two-point J’s as a rookie, 21st in the League according to 82games.com — and spent his summer working on his range (38% from three), among other things. He can also take on the assignment of guarding the other team’s go-to guy. By the end of last season, O.J. was trading crunch-time buckets and assists with the likes of Brandon Roy, Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Martin, with the Grizzlies emerging with wins more often than expected.
Youth, inexperience and the predictable instability in his position as go-to guy are primarily what’s keeping O.J. low on this list. One thing he can control that he’ll have to improve is his playmaking ability — he tends to get shot-happy — or else find ways to get easier shots if he’s going to shoot a lot. At 6-4, Mayo is an undersized two-guard who doesn’t have elite athleticism by NBA standards. So a lot of times, he’ll end up taking (or settling for) a long jumper instead of getting to the basket to create a higher-percentage opportunity. (Having a dependable low-post scorer like Zach Randolph should help fix that, giving O.J. at least a good reason to pass the ball more.)
He’s got time, though. Even with the addition of Iverson, there’s no pressure for O.J. to turn the Grizzlies into a winner. The Grizzlies aren’t supposed to beat the League’s top teams yet, meaning O.J. is supposed to lose those game-within-a-game battles to more experienced crunch-time guys. And even if he finds himself deferring to the veteran A.I., this is a one-year rental; O.J. will have his spot back in 2010. If he does maintain his alpha dog spot, it’ll only make him stronger as a competitor. From there, it’s no bold prediction to say Mayo will find himself closer to legit superstar status soon enough.
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