DALLAS — The deconstruction of O.J. Mayo‘s game started a month before training camp, by his own volition, when the shooting guard showed up in Dallas to get to work.
“My whole thing is to give my game to Coach (Rick Carlisle) and let him help me get better in ways I can help the team,” Mayo said during the Mavericks’ September news conference to introduce their gaggle of newcomers.
Mayo acknowledged then that friend — and fellow former third overall draft pick — Chauncey Billups helped convince him to sign with the Mavs and learn under the hands-on Carlisle. Billups credits Carlisle, his coach with the 2002-03 Detroit Pistons, with turning around his career from disappointing, high draft-pick journeyman to a champion, an All-Star and one of the truly respected players in the league.
Mayo signed a two-year discounted deal with Dallas, earning $4 million this season with a player option for next season (one he won’t ever exercise unless things go horribly wrong).
If Mayo, who turns 25 on Monday, wants to get paid like a star and be respected as one, now is his big chance to show he’s all grown up. With Dirk Nowitzki out perhaps the first month of the season after arthroscopic knee surgery, the Mavs, with nine new players and in a state of uncertainty as they open the season tonight at the Los Angeles Lakers, must quickly find leadership and production. Even with Nowitzki in the lineup, Dallas was counting on Mayo to take over Jason Terry‘s role as the second scoring option.
But now the stakes are even higher for the 6-foot-4 Mayo, who has seemingly only been a star in his own mind. Dallas needs more than just a shooter and a scorer. They’re desperate for an energizer, a penetrator, a defender and a floor leader — even a backup point guard.
The Mavs smartly boosted Mayo’s confidence from the get-go by virtually handing him the starting job at shooting guard (not that much competition existed) alongside point guard newcomer Darren Collison. As a starter his first two seasons in Memphis, Mayo averaged 18 points a game. He seemed enthused just knowing he would return to the starting lineup while being given an unconditional green light.
Yet, at least in the early going with Nowitzki out and with an extraordinarily small front line since center Chris Kaman (strained right calf) is also out, Mayo, a 43 percent career shooter, is going to be asked to deliver a consistent presence and all-around production more in line with his final preseason game, a near triple-double.
Although he hit just 4-of-15 shots last Friday in a win over Charlotte, Mayo finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals, a block and two 3-pointers.
That performance marked a high point in an otherwise up-and-down preseason for Mayo as the Mavs adjusted to life with so many new additions in a rotation minus Nowitzki plus other injury issues and question marks.
But, that performance is a standard that will keep the Mavs afloat in the opening few weeks and one that will ultimately propel Mayo to a level he has yet to attain.