When O.J. Mayo told Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix there were times last year where he wasn’t sure he even wanted to play basketball anymore, my eyes opened. I’ll admit that Mayo is and always will be one of my favorite players. His ruthlessness in high school hooked me. Three years into his pro career, I never would’ve guessed that someone had stolen his confidence. But it definitely happened.
One thing you realize when speaking to enough players is that it’s more about the situation than it is the player. Sure, there are times when someone loses motivation, and their game falls off. But take away the very best players in the world, and what do you have left? Dozens of guys who could excel in one system, and flounder in another. Mayo could probably average 20 points a game on Golden State if the two teams ever went through on the rumored Mayo and Thabeet swap for Monta Ellis. But in Memphis, he’s a backup shooter.
Look at Rashard Lewis in Washington. His efficiency actually improved after he was traded from Orlando. His rebounding and assist rates went way up while his money shot stayed pretty fresh. But on a young team with a rookie dominating the ball, how many opportunities was he going to have?
While I still harbor hopes that Juice will one day develop into the All-Star I thought he would be, I’m not naïve. Last year he didn’t play like one, didn’t even play like a starter. His minutes dropped by nearly a quarter of the game (down to 26.3) and his true shooting percentage took a nosedive down below 50 percent, way below the league average. Considering the strongest part of his game is his shot-making, that was a major red flag. Most telling perhaps was his turnover rate (down from 13.85 his rookie year to 10.96 last year) and the percentage of his baskets that were assisted (way up to 66%). Once considered a scorer, Mayo turned into a shooter. Memphis banished him to the off-ball corners and wings, and he became a secondary option. While he had less opportunities to turn it over, he also had less opportunities to make plays and expand his game. As a rookie, he looked like a lock to eventually average 21-23 points, 4-5 rebounds and 4-5 assists. Now, he’s admitted he lost his confidence and that last year was one of the hardest of his career.
While Mayo eventually adjusted towards the end of the season, he still has too much talent to be a background singer. He’s not the only one who desperately needs a bounce-back season. As I wrote earlier this summer about players who need to sink or swim this year, hit the jump for nine other NBA pros that could really use the pick-me-up.