O.J. Mayo is at peace while raising hell. After four mercurial seasons, the Dallas Mavs new star guard is seamlessly settling in and again appears destined for heights that once seemed preordained.
The re-transformation has been anything but mechanical in nature. It’s made for plenty of restless nights and soul-searching reflections. All to arrive at the point of this past summer’s high stakes roll of the dice.
Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo dared to take less, lured by the dream of wanting, craving, needing more. His decision to ink a one-year, $4 million deal (with a player option for second season) with the Mavs illustrates as much. It all but renders his play this season a down payment of sorts to all future would-be-seekers as to what his ultimate value can truly be.
In the aftermath of Memphis, questions – even doubts – abounded. The highlight of his NBA existence came as quickly as it began when in 2008 he finished runner-up to Derrick Rose for ROY honors. Since then, Rose has soared to heights as the youngest MVP in league history, while Mayo’s shine dimmed to the point he’s spent his last two full seasons battling for non-starter minutes
Master salesman that he is, Mavs owner Mark Cuban long kept tabs of Mayo’s dwindling options. When he moved to bring him to Dallas last summer, he did so with the inspirational sermon that this could well be the 25-year-old’s last best chance of achieving anywhere near the level of stardom, he’s dreamed of since growing up idolizing Magic Johnson. No matter how long his NBA career spans, Cuban stressed this will be the season from which all others are predicated.
Dazed by all the blunt honesty, Mayo, nonetheless, took the critiques to heart. Using it as fuel, he labored as never before. But somewhere between the dizzying array of shooting drills and weight training-sessions, O.J. Mayo got cerebral, finally internalizing the days when he could dominate games in the same style that once made him such an AAU legend.
That’s not to say Mayo didn’t have other suitors. The Bulls, Lakers, Suns and Pacers all made it a point of having his reps on speed dial. But in Mayo’s mind, what most distinguished one from the other was his personal commitment to getting better and his fundamental belief that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, acerbic style and all, was the man best versed in getting him there. In Carlisle, Mayo has a coach that rides him as hard as any he’s ever had, yet one he respects more than any he’s laced up for.
“The great thing about it is I want to be a damn good or great player,” Mayo told ESPN. “It’s all about work, work, work. I’m totally comfortable, totally focused.”
Thus far this NBA season, his play is reflective of someone operating in such a zone. Through the Mavs 6-5 start, Mayo is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor overall and almost ten percent better on treys. On an average of fewer minutes and less shots than five of the NBA’s top six scoring leaders, he ranks seventh in in scoring (21.3 ppg) and leads all with 36 threes.
All this despite the Mavs best laid plans having gone woefully awry. Imagine how much better things might be once a still ailing Dirk Nowitzki returns to the lineup to space the floor even more, or even when Shawn Marion fully returns from his left knee sprain.
But as for right now, what comes of the Mavs solely rests in Mayo’s hands. And that’s all good with the former USC sharpshooter, albeit much of that confidence springs from a far different place than it may have just four short seasons ago.
Nowadays, it’s a more humbled, more poised and controlled O.J. Mayo.. The more he gives, the more the Mavs seem to need and Carlisle demands. The no-holds barred coach is now on record, insisting his new star has all the requisite qualities needed to rate among the league’s best perimeter defenders. Size, strength and toughness, they’re all attributes Mayo holds in spades.
It makes for quite the grind. But if anyone can handle the added workload it’s Mayo. Seems it’s what he was born to do.