Top 50: OJ Mayo, no. 46
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
OJ Mayo is equal parts ice and fire. The ice rests in his young veins, eyes and oncourt temperament. Under that glacial exterior, though, blazes a brilliant, smoldering fire; one that has pushed Mayo this far, and will continue to burn and drive him till he resides in the top 20 of the top 50.
Playing in all 82 games as a rookie last year, Mayo did pretty well for himself, putting up 18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.2 apg and 1.1 spg. Actually, historically speaking, that’s better than “pretty good.” That’s very good. Those numbers stand up there alongside Dwyane Wade’s, Ben Gordon’s, Ray Allen’s and Brandon Roy’s frosh stats. Unlike the other listed guys, though, Mayo’s squad had a terrible season, finishing a dismal 24-58.
On an honest other hand, Mayo did take his share of lumps, shooting an AI-esque 43.8% from the floor, a number that dropped precipitously as the season wore on. These negatives, in addition to his going through agents like kicks, are nothing to worry about, though. If anything, like most rookies, OJ has nowhere to go but up.
At 6-4, 210-lbs, Mayo proved effective at either guard spot. Additionally, kid showed smarts, too, displaying a malleable game, one that shifts shapes to fit the spot he’s playing. To state it clearly: When Mayo plays the point, he plays like a point. When he plays the two, he plays like a two. According to 82games.com, if OJ were to play 48-minutes at the point, he would average 6.3 apg, while only taking 15.9 shots. If he were to play shooting guard for 48-minutes, Mayo would take 20 shots and average 4.1 apg. Don’t underrate the value of knowing how to play your position.
As a precocious rook, Mayo also scored in double-digits in his first 25 games. The most outstanding part of that stretch and his season as a whole? OJ only averaged 3.4 free throws a game. In comparison, Roy averaged 6.5 and Kevin Durant averaged 7.1. Whether Mayo’s number was low due to his tendency to settle for J’s or because rooks don’t get calls won’t matter soon, as Mayo begins attacking the cup harder and sheds the title of rookie. (Durant’s attempts rose from 5.6 to 7.1 from year one to two, so he’s an example of what should/could happen with Mayo.)
In the 82nd and final game of his first year, Mayo showed a glimpse of what could soon be, scoring 26 points on 47% shooting from the field and a perfect eight-for-eight from the line. That line is the box of a talented scorer, similar to some of the stars Mayo’s been compared to since he was 15.
Long compared to LeBron James, thanks to going to high school in Ohio for three years, Mayo will never be in that league. More recently linked to Kobe, as much for his demeanor as his game, he will never be in that league. But you wouldn’t be going out on a limb to say that Mayo could very well develop into a Danny Granger, Stephen Jackson, Michael Redd type of player—a dude that’s very, very good, but not elite. In terms of comparing his game to another current pro, you wouldn’t be wrong if you said you see a lot of Joe Johnson in him. It’s an apt look ’cause both are smoother and cooler than silk sheets.
Last June, Pat Riley toyed with selecting OJ ahead of Michael Beasley. Given the current set of circumstances, that woul’ve been a solid move. With only one year of NBA ball behind him, Mayo may very well be a better player than five guys who played in the All-Star game last year; meanwhile Beasley proved to be an inch or two too short to dominant on the court, and a screw or two away from having his head on straight.
Mayo would probably rather be in Miami this season, and not because of the beaches or bikinis. No. Rather, it’s likely that Memphis won’t win that many more games than they did last year. It’s likely that Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph or any number of players could get traded by Chris “I am the worst GM in the League” Wallace. It’s likely that his pg won’t get him the ball where and when he needs it. It’s also likely that Mayo’s mix of fire and ice will help him persevere and put up stats through many a tough losing streak.
If playing in the NBA is heaven, suiting up for Memphis is closer to hell. Mayo’s going to straddle that line, while continuing to improve his game.
This year? The top 50. Next year? Maybe the top 35. After that? Sky’s the limit.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.