OJ Mayo’s brief basketball career has taken more tumbles and more rises and falls than an oscillating sound wave. If you told a Mayo fan in 2007 that he would playing at an All Star level in the NBA in 2012, you wouldn’t be met with surprise. From earning comparisons to Kobe Bryant as a high-schooler to an underwhelming start to his NBA career before sky-rocketing again, the surprise isn’t the destination where he is currently at, but the journey he took to arrive at that destination.
Mayo was picked third by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2008 NBA Draft, behind only Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, and ahead of the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert. Coming off a fantastic and controversial high-school career, leading up to a successful and again controversial year with USC in college, third place seemed to be just about right. This wasn’t a surprise.
But then the surprises began. The Minnesota Timberwolves made a rare shrewd move (in hindsight) on draft night, trading their number three pick – Mayo – to Memphis in exchange for the number five pick – Love – in an eight player swap. Once rivals in college, their paths has crossed again as they became professionals. The rest is recent NBA history. Love quickly developed into one of the best players in the NBA, dominating score-sheets and giving the Timberwolves their first bonafide franchise player since Kevin Garnett.
Down in Memphis, Mayo had a good start to his career, averaging 18.5 points per game as a rookie and being named into the All Rookie First Team. Although he was decent again in Year Two, his efforts went mostly under the radar whilst playing for the forgettable Grizzles. In this third season, Mayo got demoted to the bench, and the once-future-Kobe Bryant was forced to play the role of a sixth man. The good news was that his team improved drastically as a whole and shocked the world after a successful trip to the playoffs. But Mayo’s role and value in the squad fell behind a stacked roster of more talented players, and he flirted with relative anonymity.
It was strange seeing a player who was once an unstoppable talent in his teenage years being humbled to a limited role. Mayo was blessed with a rare offensive arsenal. He had the size and scoring versatility of a shooting guard, the ability to be a dead-eye long-range shooter as well as the ability to beat his man off the dribble and attack the basket. He was stronger than most players at his size and his position, and most importantly, he had the Kobe-esque hunger to score, to take those big shots, and to win.
Despite becoming an efficient and dangerous force off-the-bench for a winning team in Memphis, Mayo was far from his potential.
At the beginning of 2012, the Timberwolves gave Kevin Love – the man who Mayo was traded for – a four-year contract extension worth over 60 million dollars. Meanwhile, Mayo didn’t start any games for the Grizzlies in the same year and the team did not sign his qualifying offer sheet. His career in Memphis was already over.
But the end of the old became the start of the new. The Dallas Mavericks snapped up Mayo for the 2012-13 season to rejuvenate a franchise who had fallen drastically from grace since their championship in 2011. Mavs had lost Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea after their championship season and Jason Terry a year later. They started the new season without team leader Dirk Nowitzki.
With Dirk out, Mayo had suddenly gone from being a sixth man to the best player on his team. And he has responded by having his best season yet, averaging a career-high in points (21.3) and shooting a blistering 53.2 percent from the three-point line. He is keeping the Mavericks floating around a .500 record despite Nowitzki’s absence. If he keeps this up and can help the Mavs improve their standings in the West, he could be a surprise first-time pick for the All Star Game.
Glorious highs, shameful lows, and forgettable periods of ‘averageness’ in between, Mayo has led a career full of surprises. He’s no Kobe, and may not even match Kevin Love, the man he was once traded for, but OJ Mayo’s unexpected rise this year is a sign of better things to come.
And from here on forth, we shouldn’t be surprised.