I never thought O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison would find themselves in the same predicament.
Mayo is one year away from possibly being tacked onto the all-time lottery pick bust lists, while Collison is three years removed from a promising rookie season that made the league fall in love with his potential (until he stood them up last season).
One was supposed to be a star, and one was predicted to be solid. Mayo was drafted No. 3 in 2008 after his one-and-done at USC, while Collison was picked No. 21 a year later after, at one point, leading UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances.
Besides having relatively different games – O.J. is known for his versatility and athleticism, and is one of the game’s most underrated shooters; and Collison is known for his defense, and quickness off the dribble to get to the basket – they are, oddly enough, finding common ground.
This offseason, both were testing journeyman territory for the first time, a slippery slope for two young guards that longed for stability, needing a home in the league as much as Greg Oden needs new knees.
Collison bounced around from New Orleans to Indiana, showing dazzling glimpses of becoming an elite, playoff-starting point guard until his bulb dimmed, and Mayo, in four years with Memphis, was far more talented than he was given the chance to be. He was consequently relegated to the bench with limited freedom in a spotty Grizzlies offense.
“Me and O.J, we were talking yesterday about how much we have a chip on our shoulder,” Collison said in an ESPNDallas interview on September 10.
Enter the Mavs.
In July, Dallas traded Ian Mahinmi for Collison and Dahntay Jones, and signed Mayo as a free agent with a player option for next season.
This wasn’t the team Mark Cuban originally envisioned when he chased Deron Williams to help rebound from a first round playoff sweep by OKC, as well as premature exits from guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Then again, this isn’t the backcourt Collison and Mayo thought they’d be a part of at this point in their careers, either.
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Asking O.J. to become a sixth man was like asking the all-state quarterback of the football team to wash all of the team’s jerseys after a two-a-day – with no gloves.
Ill-prepared for the transition, Mayo was unable to develop a sustaining shooting rhythm in limited tick.
While critics questioned his attitude and his work ethic – not to mention his fight with teammate Tony Allen and suspension from a positive drug test – Mayo questioned how he fell out of basketball graces so quickly.
In 2008, he averaged 38 minutes. But by 2011, he played just 26 per game. So went his scoring average, from 18.5 to 12.6 per night on just 43 percent from the field.
It’s easy for a player to fall through the cracks of pro basketball, from big name to no name, and it can happen faster than a five-point game can turn into a 20-point one.
All it takes sometimes is one shot, one play, or one run, and the game isn’t what you thought it was anymore.
Coming to the NBA with far more humble expectations, Darren Collison was hoping he could find his niche with a team as a hybrid of a traditional point guard and a slashing scorer who could get up and down the court quicker than Shawn Marion‘s abnormal sling release.
Collison started 37 games at the point while three-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul was sidelined with an injury. Collison relished the opportunity, averaging 12.4 points and 5.7 assists per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc en route to NBA All-Rookie First Team honors. The future of the Hornets seemed so bright that some even flirted with the idea of trading CP3.
Instead, Collison was traded to the Pacers in 2010.