Dallas remains among the league leaders in consolation. Continuing in a series of moves that scored Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, and Dahntay Jones on reasonable, short-term deals, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have — according to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas — agreed to terms with now-former Grizzly O.J. Mayo.
The reported deal is a slight change of pace from the rest of Dallas’ rentals, but given the modest amount of cap space (~$4 million) the Mavs had at their disposal, a two-year deal with the second being a player option seems completely reasonable for a player of Mayo’s skills and age. At one time Mayo appeared to be the free agent most likely to receive a contractual overcommitment, but instead Dallas adds him to a growing rotation for sub-midlevel money without much complicating their financial outlook.
That’s a victory in itself. Ball-handling, perimeter shooting, and quality wing depth were all Maverick needs, and yet Dallas was caught between overcommitting to target players (thereby compromising their long-term goals) and settling for honorable mentions. The gap between Courtney Lee and Marco Belinelli is a wide one indeed, and fortunately, the Mavericks landed in the preferable end of that spectrum without any guaranteed salary beyond this season. That very well could be Dallas’ most impressive stunt this summer — quite an accomplishment considering that Brand, Collison, and Jones were acquired by opportunism alone.
But before things get out of hand, it’s important that expectations are curbed a bit. O.J. Mayo is a good player but a big name; he was a highly recruited blue-chipper, a much-hyped NCAA player, a No. 3 overall pick, and a big-time rookie scorer. None of that matters much at all anymore, as even Mayo’s rookie year came on a barren roster that demanded he hoist up shots. This is a very different role on a very different team, and though Mayo will certainly have his chances to score, he’ll be in no position to do so in considerable volume.
I say this because Mayo’s reputation — coupled with vague understandings of how his game, age, and production intertwine — can be a bit misleading. Already we’ve heard the very understandable comparison to Jason Terry, but despite the similarities in theoretical function between Mayo and JET, there’s no question that Dallas has inherited the inferior offensive player.
The raw stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology can get a bit strange at times, but given the comparison points for Mayo and Terry in terms of responsibilities and general skill set, it’s well within reason to evaluate how they perform in certain congruent contexts. Here’s a look at how both players panned out in a variety of scenarios last season, evaluated in terms of points per possession:
|PPP||O.J. Mayo||Jason Terry|
|Pick and roll: Ball handler||0.68||0.84|
The replacement isn’t exactly ideal, largely because Terry is an exemplary spot-up shooter and a particularly skilled pick-and-roll player. He may not be your first choice to run the offense, but JET makes excellent passes coming off of screens and is an uncommonly efficient pull-up jump shooter. That combination is rarer than you might think, and while Mayo is certainly passable in both regards, he has not yet neared the offensive talents of the player whose shoes he’ll be filling, and thus shouldn’t be expected to perform in the same capacity.
Mayo is bigger, younger, and a significantly better defender, but he is not a stand-in for Terry in his current form. And if you’re the Mavericks, who are renting Mayo for what’s almost surely a single season, isn’t that current form all that really matters?
Having younger players is a nice way to avoid age-related decline and most concerns over fatigue, but the only iteration of Mayo that’s likely to play in Dallas is the 25-year-old that suits up this season. He’ll undoubtedly have a long NBA future and a very successful career, but let’s not romanticize an arrangement of two parties using one another. For Mayo, this season is a chance to play in a featured role for a playoff club, and showcase what he’s capable of in a fresh offensive system. For the Mavs, this is a Fix-a-Flat on a long road trip; it gets them by and keeps them moving forward, but it’s a temporary solution to delay a more inevitable investment. Perhaps Dallas does end up with Mayo on a long-term deal at some point, but based on what we know now (and barring the acquisition of a bigger star in the interim), there’s simply no reason to think that the Mavs would or should.
This is a good get (a very good one considering the circumstances) for the Mavs, and the defensive tandem of Mayo and Marion is both flexible and formidable. Yet Dallas’ previously troubled offense scaled back a bit in transitioning from Terry to Mayo, regardless of how tired Maverick fans had grown of JET’s game and limitations. Smart signings don’t have to be upgrades, and in this case, what makes the decision to sign Mayo a wise one is simply the mitigation of loss at an incredibly manageable cost.