Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mid-Season Player Notes: O.J. Mayo

Posted By on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 9:10 AM

O.J. Mayo seems more settled into his sixth-man role this season, but his production has been about the same.
  • O.J. Mayo seems more settled into his sixth-man role this season, but his production has been about the same.

With no suspension, no fight, and no aborted trade, this has been a far less tumultuous season for O.J. Mayo. But out on the court, the differences have been much smaller.

Though he seems more comfortable in his sixth-man role and seems to be approaching the game with a clearer head and more confidence, Mayo's minutes, scoring, and shooting percentages are essentially the same as they were a year ago.

There's reason to hope that Mayo's current 37% three-point shooting — a good mark in general, but not for a team's designated sniper — will trend up in the second half. Mayo shot 43% from long-range in January and was 3-5, 3-6, and 3-6 in three of four games before the break (the other was an 0-6). If Mayo can avoid longish shooting slumps like the one he had in early-to-mid-February, he can be a 40% three-point shooter, which the Grizzlies really need him to be given his role with the team and defensive limitations.

More evident of Mayo's renewed focus and energy level is that he's finishing better in the lane (29% last season, 39% this season) and, in the absence of Zach Randolph, helping out on the defensive boards more, with a sharp uptick in his defensive rebound rate. He also seems to be getting more chances to finish out games without Randolph.

Still, the Grizzlies have performed slightly worse with Mayo on the floor at both ends, with more problems defensively, where the Grizzlies have been five points worse per 100 possessions. For all the conjecture about Lionel Hollins' view on Mayo limiting his minutes and his role, an honest coaching assessment of Mayo's defense is probably the real issue.

One wrinkle this season is that, with Greivis Vasquez gone and rookies Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby struggling, the Grizzlies have gone where they've been reluctant to go before: Giving Mayo spot minutes at point guard. And the team has generally held up pretty well in these brief stretches, especially with Marc Gasol also on the floor. If the playoffs began tomorrow, I'm guessing Mayo would be the back-up point guard. If Pargo or Selby don't emerge and no other roster moves are made, that could easily be where we're headed.

A final, short-term issue for Mayo: Will the specter of a potential trade emerge in the next couple of weeks as we head toward the trade deadline? There's a push-pull dynamic here. On one hand, Mayo had been told before the season he was no longer on the block, and the team is focused on winning now, with Mayo serving as an effective sixth man and bench scorer. On the other hand, Mayo still seems unlikely to return next season, so the idea of getting something of value for him now — especially if it can be done in a way that's at least a neutral short-term move — is going to be enticing. But the biggest issue may be the team's perch just above the luxury tax line. If owner Michael Heisley insists on getting under the line, there seem to be two ways to do it: An accounting-maneuver type trade that would send a minor player (likely Sam Young) and sweetener (second-round pick?) to a team under the cap, or something that would send Mayo out and bring back less salary in return.



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