The Dallas Mavericks are trying to stay in a situation where Dirk Nowitzki has something worth playing for when he comes back from his injury. Falling below .500 is something the Mavericks are trying to avoid like the plague. There have been two chances to fall below that mark and they have survived to tell the tale. A 114-111 victory over the New York Knicks on 11/21 allowed them to avoid that sinking feeling. “During the walk-through, we really focused and understood that we were back at .500 and didn’t want to go under the water,” Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo said. “We focused up and got the win.”
After scoring all 11 of Dallas’ points in overtime against the Warriors on Monday (11/19), Mayo led all scorers with nine points in the first quarter against the Knicks on Wednesday. He totaled 20 points in a 17-minute span (he played all 5 minutes of overtime vs. Golden State 11/19 and all 12 minutes of the first quarter vs. the Knicks 11/21). Mayo finished with a game-high 27 points in 36 minutes against the Knicks. He has now scored 18-plus points in each of his last 11 games. He is averaging 24.0 points/game in that spa). Mayo has led Dallas in scoring in 10 of those 11 contests. He recorded his eighth 20-point effort of the season against the Knicks. Mayo had six 20-point outings in 66 games with Memphis last season.
Mayo continues to be the bright spot for the team as they try to stay afloat while Dirk Nowitzki is on the mend. “He played great,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said of Mayo’s performance against the Knicks. “We had a lot of guys play really well but right now he’s our leader, especially at the offensive end. During the course of the whole game, he was either making shots or making plays or helping other guys get shots. He is getting better and better and that’s exciting.”
Prior to the game against the Knicks, Mark Cuban was asked about Mayo’s performance in the early portion of the season. He raved about what he’s seen from the guard. Cuban said, “When he gets an advantage, look out.” When asked about what has surprised him the most about Mayo, Cuban said he has surprised by his shooting. Currently, Mayo is shooting 42-of-74 (56.8 percent) from 3-point range. He is shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 86.2 percent from the free throw line. While Dirk is still out, the Mavericks still have weapons at their disposal, but Mayo is ‘the man’ and having to carry the load. Mayo is maximizing his productivity and doing so in a simple way. “I’m just playing off my teammates,” Mayo said. “I’ve just got to try to make open shots and take good ones.”
Mayo is playing in complete control right now. He’s in such a great rhythm, you’re almost surprised when he misses a shot. “I’m just playing hard,” Mayo continued. “It’d be nice if I don’t make shots and I could do other things in order to try to still get the win and still be effective out there.” Mayo leads the league at 3.2 treys attempted/game. He also leads the league in 3s made with 42. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin is second in the league with 33. In another form of comparison, Chicago ranks last in the league in terms of 3s made with 39. That means Mayo has more 3s made than one entire team. “Shot-making is something I’ve been doing and can do, but you can just rely on that,” Mayo said. “You have to play all aspects of the game.”
Carlisle wants to see more of a well-rounded game with Mayo, outside of perimeter shooting. He’s challenged Mayo to operate more as a defender and as a facilitator. To this point, Carlisle is willing to say he’s pleased with what he’s seen. After the victory against the Knicks, Mayo let it be known that he has a very specific goal. It’s quite unique. “It’s just 13 games in. I’m just grinding,” Mayo said. “You never want a bad night or an off night, but I’m looking to the night where shots aren’t falling and seeing if I can still be effective out there. At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep grinding and playing hard.” While the Mavericks can’t afford Mayo having bad nights, he understands Carlisle’s demand for a better all-around game.
A good pickup by the Mavericks has become a great one. As a free agent, Mayo arrived in Dallas after being humbled through the free agency process. He went through his first real free agency experience and didn’t find many suitors knocking down his door. He’s used that disappointing situation as fuel for his fire. “Even when I was on the bench [in Memphis], I was still grinding, hoping for an opportunity one day,” said Mayo. “Hey, it’s here.”
It definitely has arrived for Mayo. He’s making the most of it as he’s ranked seventh in the league in scoring at 22.2 points/game. When you dig deeper into the statistics, Mayo’s performance through 13 games is truly remarkable. Of the players in the top 10 in scoring, Mayo ranks last in terms of minutes played at 35.0 minutes/game (Kyrie Irving is next at 35.2). Out of the same group of players, his shooting percentage ranks third best at 50.3 percent (Kobe Bryant – 53.1 percent; LeBron James – 52.4 percent).
True shooting percentage (TS%) is an advanced statistic that measures shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws. Out of the top 10 scorers, Mayo is first with a TS% of 65.3 percent. He ranks last out of the top 10, or first, depending on how you look at it, in terms of field goals attempted/game at 15.0 (Kevin Durant is next at 16.8 attempts/game). In summation, the new shooting guard is providing the Mavericks with much needed help. It’s incredibly hard to argue the point that Mayo isn’t playing at an All-Star level. He has never been selected to an All-Star team.
Cuban raved about Mayo’s approach leading up to the game against the Knicks, but he sarcastically wanted to make sure to avoid putting a huge spotlight on Mayo. “I don’t want to talk him up too much because I don’t want him to opt out next year,” Cuban joked prior to the game. Reality looms as Mayo has a player option on his contract for next season for just over $4 million. After coming to Dallas as free agent, the Mavericks don’t possess Bird Rights on Mayo. They won’t have any collective bargaining advantages when Mayo likely opts out of his contract next year and becomes a free agent. One thing the Mavericks will have is cap space. Cuban has been well aware of this situation and how the team could operate going forward.
While Cuban didn’t want to toot Mayo’s horn too much, he wanted to let it be known there was something else he was surprised about with Mayo. He feels Mayo is a better guy in the locker room than he’s been given credit for. Darren Collison, someone who has been a summer workout partner with Mayo for the last couple of years, vouched for Cuban’s opinion. “I think he’s becoming a real good leader,” Collison said exclusively the Two Man Game. “He’s never negative. He’s always positive.
“He’s probably one of our hardest working players, if it’s not Dirk, on this team. He’s here early with the younger group. He wants this badly. That becomes contagious. When you see a guy like O.J. working, everybody wants to step up and work. The one thing I’m surprised about with O.J. is his off-the-court approach. I think that’s part of the reason he’s having so much success right now.”
The Mavericks were just hoping to stay afloat while their leader was out. With Shawn Marion being the leader on defense, it appears the team has found another leader in Mayo. That can only be a good thing for the team when Dirk comes back.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.