|Mayo's entire career has been turned around by his moving to Dallas|
O.J. Mayo was drafted third overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves and subsequently traded on draft night to Memphis. When such a sequence of events starts off a player's career, it doesn't seem to be headed in a direction like that of other elite players.
In his one year in Southern California with the Trojans, Mayo was a scoring machine that the rest of the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) simply could not stop. Averaging 20.7 points per game, it appeared O.J. would face immediate success at the next level, as his rare mix of size, athleticism and pure scoring ability is not one commonly seen in the NBA. Apparently, the Grizzlies felt that way too, as they thought highly enough of Mayo to trade for him on draft night, giving up Kevin Love and the opportunity to pick Russell Westbrook or Roy Hibbert in exchange for the USC product.
In the beginning of his tenure with the Mavericks, Mayo was living up to the hype bestowed on him since high school, temporarily validating the Grizzlies' faith in him. The West Virginia native played all 164 regular season games of his first two seasons, averaging 18.5 points per game and 17.5 points per game in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns respectively. His performance in his rookie season was good enough to earn him a spot on the All-Rookie team and put him in second place for Rookie of the Year voting, behind winner Derrick Rose.
Even with all of O.J.'s early NBA success, his team could not crack the top eight teams in the tough Western Conference and did not make the playoffs in either season. That would change in the next season, which was the 2010-11 NBA campaign in which the Grizzlies were finally able to reach the Western Conference playoffs. Unfortunately for Mayo, it came at a time when his on- and off-court troubles started to burgeon.
First, on November 20, 2010, he was benched by coach Lionel Hollins for the first time in his career for being late to a team shootaround. Then came a fight with teammate Tony Allen over a poker game on a team plane, an incident which was believed to have caused Mayo's absence from the following game, an incident which the team passed off as a bronchitis-related issue.
He even got suspended for 10 games later in the season because of a positive test for a banned substance.
Compounded with a decrease in nearly every significant statistical category, these non-basketball-related problems turned Mayo's season into a complete mess, as he only started 17 of the 71 games he played, a far cry from starting and playing every game in his first two seasons.
The next season was another down one for the shooting guard and it appeared that his time in Memphis may be coming to a close soon. He did not start a single game of the 66 he played in the shortened season and held a shooting percentage hovering around 40 percent for the second straight season. Then, in the offseason, the Grizzlies did not offer him a contract, making him an unrestricted free agent, ending his up-and-down stint with the team.
As we now know, the Mavericks picked him up on the cheap with a contract worth $8.5 million for two years which has turned out to be a godsend for Dallas and coach Rick Carlisle. Mayo is averaging 20.9 points per game this season while improving in nearly every other offensive statistic.
Also, he has filled in admirably in Dirk Nowitzki's absence, as Dirk still has not played a game this season due to a nagging knee injury. One of the biggest reasons why the Mavs have been able to stay afloat in the tough West has been Mayo's surprising leadership and efficient production, a far cry from his strikingly poor performances in recent years.
It is clear O.J. has reinvented himself as both a person and basketball player, as he has certainly matured from the experience of let go by the team that drafted him. This is not the same player who fought a teammate over poker and was late to a shootaround.
He is a completely different player, a much-improved O.J. Mayo.
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