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Latest News, NBA / Jul 19, 2010 / 12:30 pm

O.J. Mayo Wants a New Handle: PG

O.J. Mayo (photo. John Sturdy)

2010, the age of insecurity.

All this posturing going on can’t kick the fact that for everyone out there dropping how much “swag” they have, in reality, they probably don’t have much at all. In the NBA, it’s more apparent than ever. People don’t want to be coached and aren’t willing to have their faults uncovered in front of the world.

Too much ass-kissing.

Circumstances aside, the last person who should be clamoring for some offseason coaching is O.J. Mayo. He was the most hyped high school player since LeBron James. He was Mr. Basketball of Ohio as a sophomore. He was the No. 1-ranked player in his class since potty-training, shitting out hoop records. If anyone should be a product of this environment we’ve helped to fester, it should be Mayo. Arrogant. Self-promoting. Egotistical and angry.

Nope.

Over the past week, O.J. Mayo spent time with the Memphis Grizzlies’ “jayvee” team in Las Vegas. He’s trying to play point guard. Why would a proven scorer, perhaps a future All-Star at the NBA level, a kid who has had everything thrown his way since before he could drive, be playing in summer league with guys so anonymous that NBA.com didn’t bother to give them player bios?

One of the best shooters in the League, Mayo has twice averaged over 17 points a game. He combines a smooth style — feathery mid-range floaters and buttery set shots — with the hunger of someone yearning to be recognized as one of the best.

Kobe once said, “I think the world of (Mayo).” The two-time reigning Finals MVP clamored over the then-rookie’s overall skill level, his triple threat of passing, dribbling and shooting.

Yet, over two games in Vegas last week, Mayo piled up 15 turnovers next to just six assists. He did drop 20 points in his first outing against Atlanta while shooting 8-for-13 from the field. But that was expected. I bet Juice could get 20 in Timbs.

He mishandled the ball in the half-court and struggled finding angles to get it into the post. He often broke sets down by pushing the ball up the wing, regularly ceding control to a teammate without any structure in the offense. Mayo also continued the rather alarming habit of forcing impossible passes in congestion. Basically, the only thing lead-guard worthy out of his performance was the letters scribbled next to his name in the box score: PG.

Last week, I met up with newly-minted $82 million man Rudy Gay at a Nike event in New York City. When we got to talking about his plans for the summer and the progress he hopes to see in his Memphis team, Gay volunteered his own praise of Mayo’s decision.

While there were rumors over the past year or so of the two butting heads on offense, Gay was obviously impressed with what his teammate was doing.

“I commend him for going out there and trying to show people that he can do different things out there on the court,” Gay told me.

Gay understood exactly the point of this whole summer retreat: to get better. At 6-4 with just a 6-6 wingspan (very average for NBA standards), Mayo will always be undersized at the two. He realized that last season.

A Feb. 26 game against Charlotte started like any other. Mayo scored his team’s first nine points and had that velvety jumper flowing, looking every bit like the mini-Kobe people have been labeling him since his senior year of high school. But he cashed in just five the rest of the way and was bullied down the stretch by the Bobcats 6-8 two-guard Stephen Jackson in Memphis’ 93-89 loss.

Clearly humbled, Mayo told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “Stephen Jackson was backing me down and hitting jump shots. For the first time in my entire life I had to sit down at the end of a game because I couldn’t guard my man. From that day on, I was like, ‘I have to get better at ball handling and being a lead guard.’ There may be a ceiling for me at shooting guard. Every night I’m battling guys 6-6, 6-7 and it’s kind of tough for me.”

In high school, Mayo was tabbed as a future lead guard, a guy who had everything you wanted out of that position, except with a few added inches of height, some extra muscle and one of the wettest jumpers on the planet. People saw many of the same ball skills as Chauncey Billups.

But in two years at the professional level, Mayo has averaged a paltry 3.1 assists per game (and that’s after he had a negative assist/turnover ratio in college). Despite relying on middling guards like Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry the last two years, no one in Memphis trusted Mayo enough to give him the ball. For the most part — especially last year when he became the team’s third option on offense — the former USC Trojan sat in the corner, receiver of kick-outs and bailouts. It was a far cry from what experts envisioned from him when he was a teenager. Back then he was a supernova. Now? I don’t even want to say.

The team’s lack of a creator showed. In both of Mayo’s years with the Grizzlies, they finished last in the entire NBA in assist ratio (the percentage of possessions that end with an assist). They also haven’t cracked the top 20 in team true shooting percentage either. What that means is that despite having Mayo, Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as their foundation, Memphis is a terrible offensive team.

And in Las Vegas this year, Mayo supplied enough turnovers to make sure nobody was forgetting that. Still, Gay didn’t mind the mishandles.

“Everybody knows that (O.J.) is a scorer,” Gay pointed out. “He’s been a scorer for his whole life. For him to go out there and show that he can do different things — he can dish, he can set people up — that will only help him.”

Grizzlies’ assistant Damon Stoudamire, who played point guard for 13 seasons in the NBA, thought Mayo was moving too fast. He wanted him to see things before they transpired and dictate to his teammates what must happen. Stoudamire saw none of that in Las Vegas.

A tweak doesn’t always create immediate benefits and Memphis is hoping Mayo will eventually learn the spot that can be the most beneficial to him and to the team. Mayo as a two is nice. Juice as a one is …

“It’s just like any other player,” Gay confirmed. “When somebody different is on the court, you have to adjust. When OJ is playing the point, we are going to have to find ways to free him up. And he will have to figure out when it is time for him to score.”

Perhaps we should have all seen this approach coming. At the beginning of last season, Mayo told the media he was willing to scale back his scoring if it meant more wins. The Grizzlies had Gay, who was in a contract year, determined to prove his worth as a close-to-max-deal player. They had brought in the perennial high-scoring big man, Randolph, during the offseason. Someone had to take a step back and Mayo conceded, hardly the work of a selfish, shot-seeking ball hog.

“I’m about doing what it takes to help this team win,” Mayo assured the Memphis Commercial Appeal in April.

So the verdict is clear: Mayo isn’t what his rep painted him to be.

Still, the question remains. The best big point guard prospect since Jason Kidd hasn’t proven to be much of a playmaker at all, hasn’t been much of a PG.

But, he’s trying.

“I know my every move was dissected,” Mayo said. “But I’m not going to stop until I get it. I’m going to get it.”

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  • Joe’s Momma

    Gotta give the boy props for this. He played point at USC, in HS, but he was more of a scoring point.

    Jackson backs down many 2’s, they guy is about 230 lbs and 6’7″ and for Mayo to be honest like that shows a lot of growth.

    But this guy is a scorer, if he can develop a Billups like approach, that is damn impressive as Smooth is one of the top pg’s in the game. But Billups played his entire career as a lead guard, Mayo is learning how to do it in his 3rd year. He needs to take notes from his coach, Hollins was a lead guard in the NBA for a long time

  • karizmatic

    I applaud this move, I with more “combo” guards would take this lead, if you’re not at least 6’5 preferably 6’6 in the nba you’re a detriment to you team at the point position. If Mayo is able to get his mindset adjusted and learn the skills it takes to really be a point guard, he could easily be every bit as good as Billups, as far as learning when he has to score that will become a matter of his own determination when he is point guard. Memphis looks like a whole different team this way and Mayo will quickly become one of my favorite players if he is able to pull it off.

  • karizmatic

    @ Joe

    I was about to say, I had forgotten who Memphis’ coach was, because he really does need a proper coach to really move this process along.

    oh and in the above entry it should be I wish not with.lol.

  • karizmatic

    and detriment at the shooting guard position damn I didn’t proofread at all. lol.

  • pipdaddyy

    “One of the best shooters in the League”

    Now, c’mon Dime, even you cannot say this seriously. You can argue for Top 50 or so…

  • IR

    There are too many pgs on this team. Conley is decent, then they drafted Vasquez. Don’t forget about point forward Z-bo.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4xH85iDDIs

  • sweetv0mit

    Nice back-handed slap at the Ballplayer Formerly Known as “King” haha

  • http://dimemag.com Sean Sweeney

    @pipdaddyy Top 50 isn’t high enough for OJ. After naming the lights-out guys- Korver, Kapono, Ray Allen, Nash, etc.- Mayo is right there below them.

  • Rafa23

    he will never be an all-star as a shooting guard. he is a good scorer, not more. his biggest problem? being just 6-4 and NOT having elite athleticism and more importantly not being very quick. he just has trouble turning the corner and thus has to settle for contested shots every now and then.
    he has all the instincts to be like Billups in his early detroit years(more scoring) and maybe even like the floor general Billups.
    oh and that one of the best shooters in the league thing? not really guys…

  • Rafa23

    ok, he could be top barely 10:

    Korver, kapono, allen, nash, mike miller, morrow, redick, dirk,
    then a lot of guys together with OJ, which isn’t a bad spot to be in the NBA.

  • pipdaddyy

    OJ is a crafty scorer, but I would not call him a great shooter, and definitely not “one of the best in the League”. I would argue that even Gay is a better shooter, although he is not so consistant either … and with Xavier Henry coming in, OJ might be only third best on the Grizzlies.

    Not knocking on him though, its great that he is trying to get better as a point.

  • Stunnaboy09

    Serious kudos to OJ for trying this point thing. But I think he’s stuck at shooting guard until Memphis trade Conley. They drafted Vasquez to back-up Conley and that doesn’t leave many minutes for OJ.

    Come on, Gay aint a better shooter than OJ. Its between X-man and OJ for best shooter in Memphis. And OJ isnt even top-20 in the league too many specialists have better J’s than him.

    And for a guy who dominated the ball ALOT growing up, he never perfected his handles and passing?

  • Alex “Robocop” Murphy

    OJ Mayo is just like Derek Anderson (circa 2003)- just a scorer. Or maybe better version of Antonio Daniels (2002) when the Spurs thought they could use him as a back up point guard even though he is clearly a average SG. OJ Mayo doesn’t have handle. He is best suited as a Jamal Crawford off the bench type.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Lucas Shapiro

    Wow, excellent story Sean.

  • Joe’s Momma

    D Wade is 6’4″, but no one says he is too small to play the 2. John Starks was 6’3″ and was a very capable defender at the 2.

    Size isn’t OJ’s issue, as Rafa23 pointed out, its that his athletism is very average for an NBA player.

    Conley will have to really show that he is the future at the point for Memphis, if he doesn’t show growth, he will be replaced.

    IF they can get this kid Henry signed, he reminds me a lot of Paul Pierce coming out of Kansas. Same body type, same average athleticism, good shot. Lofty expectation yes, but this guy just looks really solid to me. I think he will open some eyes come December, then hit the Rookie wall.

  • hahns

    great article, sean. keep it up.

  • karizmatic

    @ Joe

    I was waiting for someone to bring up D Wade, uhhh there’s a reason he’s D Wade…he’s the exception not the rule. You need ridiculous athleticism if you’re going to be 6’4 and play the 2, why? Because you don’t have the size.

    I think you got your facts wrong on Starks he wasn’t 6’3 he was closer to 6’5. Now Dumars…you could get away with that with Dumars. But those guys weren’t world beaters at the two anyway just solid and in systems that played to their strengths.

    Other than that Conley is not the point guard of the future for Memphis, they’ll trade him if Mayo pans out at the point.

  • Russ M.

    Is Jamaal Tinsley still on Memphis’s roster?

  • http://dimemag.com Sean Sweeney

    Yeah, people forget that DWade actually played the first half of his rookie season at the point partly because there were concerns at 6-4, he was too small to play the off guard. Eventually, they realized his unreal athleticism countered that, making his height irrelevant.

  • Joe’s Momma

    @ karizmatic

    Solid discussion, Starks was listed as 6’5″, but look at him next to MJ during the games they played against each other. You can’t tell me that is only a 1 inch difference between those two. He was closer to 6’3″

    Dumars was a different monster defensively, love that guy so I aint even gonna try to bring him in the convo as I would be too biased.

    I will give you D-Wade’s athletisim negates his size, but I am talking in a defensive perspective. Offensively Mayo has done fine being “only” 6’4″.

    Also, Wade came into the league as a pg, he played point at Marquette and his entire rookie year. Took the Heat to the playoffs as a point. They werent going to let a Rookie displace Eddie Jones as the starting 2. Wade was moved to the off guard when Jones was traded and Wade showed a brilliance in getting to the cup and scoring.

    Defensively, Mayo at 6’4″ does not have that much of a disadvantage at the 2. He brought up how Stephen Jackson was torching him, but he is an exception, he played the 3 on other teams, but with Crash, he had to play 2. There are very few 2 guards that are bigger than 6’5″ who are scoring threats

    I think Mayo at the 1 will be used sparingly. I would prefer him to have the Wade role where he plays off guard, but during certain times he should run the offense so he has the ball in his hands.

  • me

    one of my favorite players in the L. Always wondered why he wasn’t picked before beasley, and I called beasley a bust on draft night. Teveryone was saying who would be #1, rose or beas, and i was wondering why it wasn’t rose or mayo. Would have been a better player if they didn’t give the ridiculous contract to overrated Gay tho. That’s Trevor Ariza without defense.

  • Pareja

    Cmon guys, Mayo is working hard, and you forget that with practice and practice you can overcome average wingspan, etc.

    Hey, Drazen Petrovic was 6’5″, white guy with UNDER average athleticism and wingspan, slow feet! He could get it done, you know why? Because that guy practiced like no one before or after him. After all this discussions one thing is for sure – the guy who works harder is better. Not the guy who has nice wingspan, if he is not better today, he will be tomorrow.

  • http://yahoo Gary

    We Have To Remember He Is Only Played 2 Seasons In The NBA, And Has Many More To Come. His Defiantly The 2nd Best Player In The 2008 Draft. Kobe Didnt Average 18.00+ PPG Until His Third Season In The NBA. There’s No Doubt That He Will Eventually Become A Guard The Is Averaging 20-24.0 PPG & 5-6 AST

  • jerryc

    Great artcle.
    IF I was a coach, looking for a gaurd, I’d give the ball
    to O.J. I’d also go back to the bench, unless I wanted to take credit for something.
    Let him play ball.

  • Chise

    Great fucking read. Props Sean, props.

    I thought juice would go down as a legend when it was all said and done, I thought his career would go down a Kobe type path, I couldn’t look more wrong now… That being said I don’t really like him at the 1, I feel like he’s a more than capable 2. He honestly isn’t even a “combo” guard in my opinion, he doesn’t really have any lead guard attributes. Juice is a 2, I commend his unselfish attitude, but he needs to understand that.

  • that dude

    @ Joe’s Momma

    Correct me if i’m wrong but wasn’t Travis Diener the point on that Marquette team Wade played the two.

  • itsakademiks

    @post 24 yea diener was the point iunno wat joe’s momma was talkin bout

  • Dre

    I definitely applaud what OJ is doing… many people don’t look at the man or woman in the mirror and be honest. He is taking a good evaluation of his game and doing what he think is best to be a better player.

  • Aljon

    I think what others are also forgetting about Wade is his 6’10 wingspan according to his draft measurements. And old era guards also had handchecking so that helped them in defending.

  • Allen Jon

    OJ is great, he is the mini Kobe of this era. It is time for his to start producing at an all-star level.

  • http://getyourishbusted.net Chicagorilla

    I commend him for trying to better his game and even the sacrificing he did this past season.

    on the other hand, he is not a PG and never has been. With Tyreke Evans, Terrance Williams, Lance Stephenson, and now Mayo all parading around like they are PG their teams are going to suffer the same way the HEAT and CAVS suffered by not having a true PG.

    When the HEAT won the chip, JWill and GP were the PGs and ran the offense. DWade was just the playmaker. Now he and Lebron (nearly 9asst per this season) are running their offenses with the ball in their hands too much as a primary scorer and while they may put up phenominal numbers, they seem to make their teammates stagnant on offense.

    this needs to stop ASAP because it’s ruining basketball and guys like OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Terrance Williams, Tyreke Evans, Lance Stephenson who are SCORERS by nature, are pretending to be PGs so they can have the ball in their hands more for selfish reasons rather than winning reasons. Their decision making and IQ is not even close to being what it needs to be to become a lead guard. It’s an embarassment to the PG position to even claim these guys are PGs.

  • ay yo..

    @Chicagorilla

    T-Will is not a scorer by nature. He’s always been a point-something. Out of all the names you listed, he could actually run point.

    “are pretending to be PGs so they can have the ball in their hands more for selfish reasons rather than winning reasons”

    ^ Um, you have no idea what you are talking about.