DALLAS — O.J. Mayo‘s bid for a first All-Star nod is spiraling down the drain during this most difficult month of December. But is Mayo simply in a rut or is he shrinking in these last five games against top competition and when his Dallas Mavericks need him most?
“He’s in a stretch of games here against some of the best teams in the league, some of the best defensive teams in the league that are heavily game-planning for him,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s the No. 1 target defensively, so there’s a certain amount of patience you’ve got to have. And look, we’re taking a guy who was a backup on a good team last year and basically thrusting him into a starring role on a team, and this is an adjustment period. And one of the painful things about an adjustment period is you’re going to go through some ups and downs.”
As the Mavs slide down the Western Conference standings, having lost five in a row and eight of nine heading into tonight’s survival-mode game against San Antonio, Mayo’s production has fallen off a cliff. In order, Miami, his old Memphis team, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Denver have essentially shut him down.
During the five-game skid, Mayo is averaging 8.8 points. His incredibly hot 3-point shooting, which had him over 50 percent for much of the season, has vanished. He’s 3-for-23 (13.0 percent) beyond the arc and 16-for-53 (30.2 percent) overall from the floor. He showed signs of breaking out Friday against Denver, hitting his first three shots and finishing 6-for-13 for 15 points.
However, most disturbing during the last five games are his 24 turnovers, six each in the last three games. Some of them inexplicably just slip off his palm for dunks the other way, as was the case late in Thursday’s overtime loss at Oklahoma City. To make matters worse, Mayo then fouled Kevin Durant for a key three-point play to aid the Thunder’s rally.
“We’ll get some pine tar for that, put it on the ball,” Carlisle joked because it’s about all he can do with this perplexing issue.
Mayo averages a team-high 3.23 turnovers a game and seven times in the last 12 games he’s had at least five turnovers, including nine in an OT loss at Boston.
The thought is that once Dirk Nowitzki gains steam and becomes more of an offensive threat than he has been in his first three games since returning from October knee surgery, defenses will have to retreat on Mayo and he’ll find more open spaces to operate, thus improving his shooting and diminishing his turnovers.
After carrying the scoring load for the first quarter of the season, the Mavs, at 12-18, are desperate for him to have a breakout game tonight against the Spurs and stop the bleeding.
“He’s in a lot of different situations this year and I’ve got to be careful about putting him in ones that he’s not ready for yet,” Carlisle said. “Generally speaking, he’s an attacking player that wants to make good things happen immediately and sometimes there’s an element of patience and discipline that have to be exercised, and he’s learning about that. That’s as simple as I can put it.”