Holding it together
In a season filled with dark clouds, O.J. Mayo may be the silver lining for theDallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki returned to the floor December 23 against the San Antonio Spurs. He scored eight points in 20 minutes. Surely none of us expected a Dirk-like performance in his first game back after two months off for knee surgery, right?
Nowitzki’s return was a surprise. According to those at the game, he didn’t decide to play until about 45 minutes before tip-off. The Dallas Mavericks ended up losing, 129-91, which is why Nowitzki played only 20 minutes.
When Mayo left Memphis in the offseason, he was considered damaged goods, an attitude problem. Dallas signed him for cheap.
Nowitzki returns to a team that is floundering with a 12-16 record and the defection of veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who asked to be waived the day before the Spurs game for reasons that aren’t certain. He had just suffered a knee injury. Perhaps Fisher just didn’t want to do the rehab?
It has been an uneven season in Dallas, to say the least. As Nowitzki returns, the Mavs are in 12th place in the Western Conference, but only two-and-a-half games out of the eighth and final playoff berth. Heck, the Los Angeles Lakers — the team the Mavs defeated on opening night without Nowitzki — are in 11th place.
Proving the critics wrong
Getting back in the race is not insurmountable, and no Mavs player was more important to keeping this season from completely tanking than O.J. Mayo. Mayo didn’t have the best reputation when he came to Dallas as a free agent this offseason.
In four seasons in Memphis, Mayo went from being a highly regarded first-round pick and starter to a substitute. He saw his minutes drop, his scoring drop and the Grizzlies saw his attitude drop.
Mayo and the Mavs faced the Grizzlies last week, and before the game, ESPNdallas.com outlined Mayo’s troubles in Elvis Presley’s home city, including run-ins with head coach Lionel Hollins and a fight with a teammate on the team plane. The Grizzlies tried to trade Mayo three times but were unsuccessful.
He left Memphis in the offseason, and he was considered damaged goods, an attitude problem. Dallas signed him for cheap. Yes, it was $4 million. In the NBA that’s cheap for a guy that has averaged 15.6 points per game during his career.
Mayo has flourished in Dallas. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game for the first 28 games, nearly a point better than any season in Memphis.
As a full-time starter for the first time in three seasons, Mayo has flourished in Dallas. He’s averaging 19.3 points per game for the first 28 games, nearly a point better than any season in Memphis. He’s making 48.6 percent of his 3-point shots, more than 10 percent better than any season in Memphis and second in the NBA this season.
He’s playing well enough to earn mention as a reserve for the Western Conference All-Star team. If Mayo were to make it, he would be the first Maverick not named Nowitzki to represent the Mavs since Jason Kidd in 2010.
Best of all, he has had no problems in Dallas. No run-ins with coaches, no run-ins with players. By all accounts, Mayo loves it here.
Return of the Dirk
But now Nowitzki’s back, and anytime a team’s superstar returns from injury, there’s adjustment. The Mavs are at their best when Nowitzki is at his best, and to accomplish that he’ll need the ball. And there’s only one of those.
Hopefully Nowitzki recognizes that Mayo’s play can make his life easier. Hopefully Mayo recognizes Nowitzki’s return makes the Mavs better. The Mavs spent all offseason trying to find a superstar to pair with Nowitzki as he prepared for his final years in Dallas.
It wasn’t supposed to be Mayo. He may not be a superstar in the traditional sense. But in the context of this Mavericks season, Mayo may be all the Mavs have.