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Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 18, 2012 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 6 Comments to Read

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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:

PPPO.J. MayoJason Terry
Overall0.87 0.95
Pick and roll: Ball handler0.680.84
Spot-up0.991.18
Isolation0.840.86

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.

  • Matt Hulme

    Very solid assessment, Rob.

    While Mayo has shown flashes of All-Star play (especially during his aforementioned rookie season in which he was basically given free reign to hoist away), he will likely never attain that level with any sort of consistency, and while the same could be argued of JET, Terry has made of career out of making himself invaluable in critical moments and high-stress situations, both with the Hawks and Mavericks, something that cannot at all be said of Mayo, 

    And albiet, Mayo's had far less time to establish himself as such, his offensive production, assist rate, rebounding rate, and steals have never matched up to Terry in even his best statistical season to date.

    Although Mayo still has time to improve, like you said Rob, it's not likely to happen this season, and even if we do see a notable improvement, it won't likely compare to the average JET season, ESPECIALLY in crunch time.

    Say what you will of Terry at times (I've found him as infuriating at times as anyone), but his presence has always instilled a respectful fear in opposing defenses. And that tendency for Terry's defenders to hesitate to collapse on a ball handler, or that fidgety stutter-step of a man-to-man defender closing out unnecessarily to prevent a Terry three, will be sorely missed above all else. Oh, and Terry's extremely at-times-way-over-the-top-ball-to-the-walls confidence. That too.

  • Alpha Centauri

    Mayo needs to regain confidence then he will become the 2nd best player on the team. Hopefully Carlisle gives him the time to adjust.

  • Bluroofdave

    I am not exactly sure how those stats work – but it seems to me Terry's numbers look better mostly because his pick and roll partner is Dirk – I expect if Mayo is running pick and roll with Dirk instead of grizzlies – his numbers would look a lot better – I guess we will see – unless pick in roll is mostly run with collison instead. Even spot up is much more likely to be a wide open jumper if dirk is on the floor

  • Jeffrey Thompson

    With the team it has, I'd be surprised if the Mavericks make the playoffs.

    • Nick

      Why? We're as deep as Denver and Memphis and we have Dirk Nowitzki. If we can just resign West, based on last year's stats we have one of the most productive second units in the league (West – Roddy – Carter – Wright – Brand), and that's not even assuming any of the rookies turn into solid rotation players, and not even counting Stevenson-esque Dahntay Jones or the seemingly improved Dominique Jones, one of the summer league all-stars. I see no reason why we aren't a contender for the 3 or 4 slot, barring injuries.

  • Nick

    I still think Dallas and Memphis's offensive and defensive systems are so different that one to one comparisons about production in one would not really reflect potential production in the other. While Mayo might continue on his decline, one would have to believe starting, playing a more natural position, and joining a superstar of Dirk's caliber should rejuvenate him and bring his back on track.

    My gut feeling, and maybe it's just my homerism talking, is that our offense will be a thing of beauty (with Collison cutting and running the pick and roll like a more consistent Barea, Mayo being the “kick” for the outside jumper - his 3pt% is consistently comparable to Terry, Kaman or Brand ready for post scoring, Marion crashing the boards and Dirk being the magickal wizard he is) and our defense should have no trouble keeping up with last year's model (4 of the top 50 rebounders in the league, Brand statistically one of the top 10 defenders in the league, major speed upgrades at the point and wing to keep up with the Westbrooks, and still anchored by Marion and now Crowder).

    Dirk and Carlisle are likely to make all these new additions better and I'm already liking the team chemistry (Collison and Mayo are longtime summer scrimmaging partners, Dirk and Kaman on the German national team, Brand and Kaman on the Clippers). Everyone has something to prove and almost everyone is in a contract year.

    We can't say we're a contender until we see the system in action. But at this moment we certainly can't say we aren't.