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The Mystery of OJ Mayo

Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard O.J. Mayo last played on January 25th against the Atlanta Hawks. Since then, he has been on the injury report with ‘illness’/conditioning. The once highly-touted prospect had a meteoric rise in high school, attracting NBA players and personnel to go to high school gymnasiums to check out the kid that many people considered a future NBA star.  This projected star has been more like a shooting star, free falling since his arrival in the NBA. Where did it go wrong for the former Mr. Basketball of Ohio?

Once labeled the next LeBron, Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard OJ Mayo
Source:Dime Mag

Mayo was not your typical high school phenom. He began making a name for himself in Kentucky, playing high school basketball while he was still in the seventh grade (in Kentucky, middle school/grade school students are eligible to play high school basketball). When he reached the eighth grade, he decided to go play high school basketball at North College Hill High School in North College Hill, Ohio. Mayo spent the next three years playing Division III basketball in Ohio, winning Mr. Basketball two years in a row, joining the ranks of former NBA player Jimmy Jackson, as well as current NBA players Jared Sullinger and LeBron James. Mayo was becoming a must-see talent in High School, and during his junior year a game against Oak Hill Academy (who had highly touted prospects in Michael Beasley) drew an audience of over 16,000 people. For the sake of comparison, the Milwaukee Bucks have had one game this season that exceeded 16,000 in attendance. Mayo finished his high school basketball career back in his home town of Huntington, Virginia, playing for Huntington High School.

Everyone was expecting Mayo to join the likes of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, and go to the NBA directly out of high school. But a change in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement during Mayo’s junior year in high school implemented a rule that all high school players were required to attend at least one year of college, or spend one year playing international basketball. Prior to the start of his senior year, Mayo committed to USC. Mayo averaged 20 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 3.3 APG in his lone year at USC, earning All-Pac 10 (now Pac 12) first team honors.

Mayo was selected 3rd in the NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but was immediately traded on draft night in an 8-player deal centered around himself and fellow rookie, Kevin Love. Prior to the start of his rookie season, Mayo played for the United States national basketball team’s select team, which is often viewed as the next group of players that will represent the US in future Olympics and FIBA championships.

He had a strong start as a rookie, averaging 18 PPG, 4 RPG, and 3 APG. He was named to the first team All-Rookie squad, and was the runner-up to Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose for the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year. In the main statistical categories, such as points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc., there was not much improvement from OJ Mayo his sophomore year – but if you look at the advanced statistics, they told a different story. Mayo was more efficient, with a higher TS%, eFG%, ORTG, & more win shares.

Things began to unravel for the guard his third year in the league. After a few off-the-court incidents, inluding a physical altercation with a teammate during a team flight and being suspended by the league for failing a drug test, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins relegated Mayo to the bench, where he would serve as the sixth man. This was easily the worst season of his career, with Mayo posting career lows in most statistical categories. Despite his own personal woes, the Grizzlies made the playoffs for the first time since 2006 as the eight seed. The Grizzlies went on to upset the San Antonio Spurs and became the fourth eight seed to beat the first seed in a playoff series.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Mayo remained on the Grizzlies bench. And once again the shooting guard struggled as the team’s sixth man, and even more so in the playoffs, where he posted negative win shares. It was evident that the Grizzlies and Mayo were not a good fit for each other, and the team did extend him a qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.

Signing with the Dallas Mavericks in 2012 to a two-year contract, Mayo was determined to get his career back on track, and play basketball at a high level. OJ was back to starting and playing alongside future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, and one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle. Mayo started the year strong for the injury riddled Mavericks (missing their star Dirk for an extended stretch), producing at a rate similar to his rookie and sophomore years. With Dirk returning and Mayo playing so well, there was hope for Dallas to make a run at the playoffs but Mayo’s level of play regressed, and he looked like the player we came to know his last two years in Memphis. The Mavericks failed to make the playoffs, and Mayo elected to opt out the second year of his deal.

Despite the shaky conclusion to the 2012-2013 season, Mayo received very good offers and signed a 3 year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks worth $24 million. Even though it is only halfway through his first year with Milwaukee, any hope for Mayo reviving his career and become a quality player is dwindling down. It is far from a coincidence that after publicly calling out Bucks head coach Larry Drew, Mayo has been absent from the team with the flu – the February 12th game against the Pelicans marks the ninth game that Mayo has missed with the ‘flu.’ With the trade deadline looming it would not surprise me to see the Bucks try to trade Mayo, but considering his level of play this year and the $16 million left on his deal, is there a market for Mayo? Mayo’s résumé leads me to believe no, which is amazing considering where he was just five short years ago.

In what amounted to a stacked draft class with All-Stars in Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, and a bunch of quality players in Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, George Hill, Nikola Pekovic, Goran Dragic, and DeAndre Jordan, Mayo has been surpassed by many of his peers, and the once coveted guard might need to wish upon a star for a chance to get his once a promising career back on track.

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