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Monday, July 14, 2008

O.J. Mayo: Early Scouting Report

The L.A. Lakers improved to 1-1 in Vegas Summer League play with an 85-76 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. The Grizzlies are now 2-1. Of course, team records are meaningless during the summer: what counts are the player development and player evaluations that are going on as teams get a first look at some of this year's draft picks and decide which players will fill out their rosters once the regular season begins.

Rookie O.J. Mayo has been taking the shots and calling the shots for Memphis during the Vegas Summer League, leading the Grizzlies in scoring (18.7 ppg), field goal attempts (42) and turnovers (18). He is shooting well from all three ranges (.476 FG%, .615 3FG%, .889 FT%) but he has just six assists in three games, ranking third on the team behind Javaris Crittenton and Mike Conley. Only so much can be read into summer league statistics; after all, there is a no foul out rule and games last for just 40 minutes. The level of competition is what I would call "D-Leagueish," featuring a large number of players who will not be playing regularly in the NBA this season. In other words, dominating the summer league statistically does not necessarily translate into dominating the NBA come November--nor does struggling in the summer league automatically spell doom, because the young players are adjusting to playing under NBA coaching and officiating for the first time.

With those caveats out of the way, here is a breakdown of the Memphis-L.A. game, focusing primarily on what Mayo did and did not do, since he may be the only player on the court who will get substantial NBA minutes this season. Mayo finished with 15 points on 6-13 field goal shooting (including 3-5 from three point range), two rebounds, zero assists and six turnovers. He also committed six fouls in 24:46.

Mayo's first field goal attempt was a right corner three pointer over the tight defense of Coby Karl, who played limited minutes for the Lakers last year. Mayo launched that contested shot with 17 seconds remaining on the shot clock and it bounced hard off of the front of the rim. The Grizzlies controlled the offensive rebound, Crittenton collapsed the defense with dribble penetration and kicked to Mayo, who fired again from almost exactly the same spot. This time, though, he was more open as Karl arrived too late and the shot nestled through the twine for Memphis' first points. NBA TV analyst Steve Jones noted, "Mayo is not deterred by misses. He really believes that he has the complete package and he will continue to attack."

On the next possession, Mayo took a bad angle when closing out on Karl and was unable to avoid fouling him. The two players slapped hands and exchanged what seemed to be, as NBA TV's Rick Kamla put it, "pleasant words." After a Lakers' basket, Mayo pushed the ball up the court, fed fellow rookie Darrell Arthur in the post and cut through the lane so that Arthur could go one on one. Arthur read the defense, then took a dribble and nailed a turnaround jumper. Since Mayo had no assists he obviously did not get one on that play--nor should he have gotten one--but during playoff games that I charted last year Chris Paul regularly was awarded assists on similar shots by David West.

Mayo seems to be an attentive defender and he displayed some aggressiveness on the glass when he pulled down a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up the court and then passed ahead to Malik Badiane, whose weak layup attempt was swatted away, denying Mayo a potential assist.

However, Mayo--despite his protestations to the contrary--does not seem to be a point guard. He has a scorer's mentality. When he caught the ball in a top of the key isolation versus Karl he held the ball for three seconds and the team's off of the ball movement slowed to a crawl. Then Mayo took one dribble and fired a low percentage jumper with 13 seconds left on the shot clock. Karl easily blocked the shot, the Lakers controlled the ball and after a bit of a misadventure Karl got the ball back and lobbed a nice pass to Cedric Bozeman for a layup.

When Mayo passed the ball, the results were mixed, though some of the problems were clearly not his fault, such as when players bobbled the ball or missed shots. Towards the end of the first quarter, Mayo dribbled the ball up court in transition and forced a lookaway bullet pass to Badiane. Karl easily anticipated the play and stole the ball. Later, Mayo made a nice pass to P.J. Tucker after Tucker slipped a screen and both defenders trapped Mayo but Tucker fumbled the ball and eventually double dribbled.

Mostly, though, Mayo looked for his own shot and that is not entirely a bad thing because he is a good shooter. With just over a minute left in the first quarter, Mayo pushed the ball up the court, veered over to the left wing and shot a midrange jumper in a four on four fast break. The ball danced around the rim softly and then went through the net. A point guard would probably have either gone all the way to the hoop or else ran some screen/roll action to create a shot for a teammate but Mayo saw an opportunity to score and took advantage of it. Mayo came off of a screen/roll play with 36 seconds left looking for his shot all the way but a lane violation erased the midrange jumper that he stuck from the left wing. On the last possession of the quarter, the Grizzlies cleared out for Mayo but then sent David Simon to the top of the key to set a screen. Mayo went toward the screen at first but then quickly reversed direction, dribbled the ball between his legs and missed a long two point jumper. Although Mayo is shooting a good percentage from the field, he settles for a lot of jumpers instead of using his athletic ability to drive to the hoop and create shots and free throw opportunities for himself and his teammates. The Lakers led 21-20 after the first quarter. Mayo and Conley topped Memphis with five points each.

On the first possession of the second quarter, Memphis ran a left wing clear out for Mayo and he made a strong drive to the basket but lost the ball out of bounds. On the next possession, Mayo missed an open three pointer when the ball was reversed to him as the trailer in transition. Later, P.J. Tucker slipped a screen for Mayo and was open when he cut to the hoop, but Mayo missed him and instead drove into the lane, made a jump stop and lost control of the ball before he could take a shot. At the 3:22 mark, Mayo claimed a defensive rebound, pushed the ball up the court and fed Badiane, who was fouled as he attempted to dunk the ball. That was probably Mayo's best pass of the game.

Kamla rightly noted that Mayo was "quiet" for most of the first half. From what I've seen of Mayo, he obviously "looks" like an NBA player--he has decent size (listed at 6-5, 200, though Jones called him a bit undersized for a shooting guard, saying that he seems to be closer to 6-3) plus good quickness and jumping ability and he carries himself with an air of confidence. However, I don't see him as some kind of superstar in the making--I still cannot fathom why anyone at any time ever compared him to LeBron James--but rather potentially a very solid NBA shooting guard who will be a productive scorer and will be capable of being a decent defender if he so chooses.

The Lakers closed the first half with more determination and aggressiveness than the Grizzlies and L.A. enjoyed a 40-30 halftime lead. "The Grizzlies have not responded," Jones said, adding that Conley should have pushed the ball more to create easier scoring opportunities because the Grizzlies are a young team that struggles a bit with precise execution in the half court set. Conley led Memphis with six first half points, while Mayo had five and Crittenton added four.

"When you come into the NBA with as much fanfare as O.J. Mayo, people expect great performances all the time. He's still learning and that's what you have to remember," Jones noted as the second half began. Mayo drained a three pointer off of a feed from Crittenton to cut the Lakers' lead to 42-36. Then, he took his eyes off of the ball and fumbled a pass out of bounds. After Badiane set a screen for Mayo, both defenders went to Mayo, who missed Badiane cutting to the hoop, pump faked and misfired on a wild jumper. Mayo's first thought coming off of a screen/roll set is definitely to look for his own shot--usually a midrange jumper--and not to pass to the roller or reverse the ball to the other side of the court. I understand that guys like Badiane and Tucker may not even be in the NBA this season and that Mayo wants to show what he can do offensively but it will be interesting to see if he becomes more apt to pass the ball during the regular season. The next time Memphis ran a screen/roll for Mayo he passed to Conley, who missed a long jumper.

Mayo caught the ball on the left wing isolated against Karl, blew right past him after an excellent fake and scored a sweet reverse layup, his best move of the night. Kamla went completely overboard, declaring, "You can't do that move unless you are a superstar-type player." That is so wrong--there are plenty of guys who are athletic enough to make one very nice reverse layup in summer league play; a superstar is a guy who is extremely productive on a nightly basis. NBA TV replayed the shot about a million times. Hey, it was a great shot and it was fun to watch but there is much more to becoming a great player than simply having the ability to make one great summer league shot. Kamla about had a heart attack waxing poetic about this play yet he never said one word during the game about how poorly suited Mayo seems to be to play point guard or about Mayo's questionable shot selection. Even though Mayo's shots went in at a decent rate in this particular summer league game that does not mean that they were (1) good shots or (2) shots that he will consistently make at that rate in the regular season.

Mayo has the tools to be a good NBA scorer but it remains to be seen if he will be an impact player overall--let alone a superstar--or if he will primarily be a guy who, as the saying goes, "gets buckets." Karl responded on the next possession by taking the ball right at Mayo and drawing a foul--less spectacular but no less effective, as Karl made both free throws. Mayo answered by coming off of a screen/roll action and again eschewing the pass to launch an off balance jumper over two defenders. Summer league is one thing but veteran big men are not going to much fancy setting screens for Mayo if the end result is almost always Mayo jacking up a shot regardless of how the play is defended.

Mayo seemed to focus more and more on his own offense as the game went on, at one point dribbling between his legs multiple times while everyone else stood around. He eventually made a jumper over Karl's outstretched arm. Keep in mind that Karl is not even a rotation player in the NBA, so proving your one on one chops versus him has nothing to do with establishing yourself as a superstar in the making. Mayo then wasted most of a possession with fancy dribbling but was unable to free himself for a shot--he never looked to create anything for a teammate--and he finally simply handed the ball to Conley, who eventually took a long jumper. "That's a lot of East-West dribbling by Conley and Mayo when you need to be going North-South...It's great to dance with the ball but if you don't go anywhere you've accomplished nothing," Jones observed. Ball movement again stopped when Mayo received the ball in the right corner, looked Karl in the eye and then made a three pointer right over him. That basket pulled Memphis to within nine points (54-45) but Mayo did not score the rest of the way. The Lakers led 62-51 at the end of the third quarter.

Mayo sat out the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter and Memphis trailed 66-52 when he returned to action. He pushed the ball up the court in transition and made a nice feed to Arthur, who tried to throw down a monster dunk but was rejected. Crittenton grabbed the rebound, made a layup and completed a three point play by making a free throw after he was fouled. The Grizzlies never really threatened down the stretch, though. A few possessions later, Mayo drove by Karl from the right baseline but missed a wild left handed shot in the lane. Talking about the difficult transition to the NBA for last year's Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant and for Mayo, Jones said, "There is a difference between being the stud in college and being the man in the NBA." Jones foresees Durant being a multiple-time All-Star and Hall of Fame level performer eventually but--despite the marked progress that Durant made in the second half of last season--I think that it is way too soon to make such pronouncements.

I don't know what the Grizzlies intend to do with their point guard situation but I'd put Mayo at shooting guard and let someone else run the offense, which is actually a look that Memphis used at times during this game: they started the game with a three guard front with Conley, Crittenton and Mayo, so Mayo was nominally the small forward even though he did a lot of ballhandling. I like Conley's passing ability but he is small, not a great shooter and perhaps a bit injury prone. Crittenton is raw but has good size (6-5, 200) and is talented. Conley and Crittenton should fight it out for the starting point guard spot.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:30 PM



At Saturday, July 19, 2008 12:39:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

mayo cant play the point he is a 2 guard he doesnt dribble good enough to play point for real. and he is not really a creator i think he will be a great player still e has too play the 2 guard spot. lebron compariosn are a joke heis way too small and not nealry as good.

you must be from ohio so you know of ohio athletes for a long time im guessing you remeber lebron from high schol right probaly posey david west as well.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 12:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm not sure that Mayo will be a "great player." He has the necessary skills to be a very good scorer at the NBA level but if it turns out that all he can do is score then he will not be a "great player." I have high standards for "great"; perhaps Mayo will get there but right now it is too soon to say based on what I have seen.

I am from Ohio but I follow pro sports much more closely than college and I don't really follow high school sports that much at all. Of course, it was hard to avoid hearing about LeBron and Mayo when they were in high school. I first heard about West when he went to Xavier. Posey went to high school in the Cleveland area but I don't remember hearing about him until he went to Xavier.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 9:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe he like a stephon marbury or somebody great scorer but dont make teamates better steph averaged 20 and 8 for his carrer he might not be that good but a undersize 2 guard that can score.

i thought mayo was from west virginia or kentucky but he went to highschool in ohio i think ohio is mid east like 7 hours from ny it must be real close to those two states if you go to highschool in one state and live in another im from california dont know much about back east just was asking since you said you was from the area i figure they must of been big names back there i remeber leon powe and drew gooden and gary payton jason kidd when they was in high school here they was big in area we known for football here.

At Saturday, July 19, 2008 11:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't see Mayo averaging 8 apg in a season in the NBA unless he starts playing completely differently. Right now he's a pure scorer.

Mayo moved all over during his prep career but I'm not sure of all of the backstory of why he kept moving around. He was not living in West Virginia while he went to school in Cinci; that would not even be close to being feasible. He moved to Cinci and was staying with someone but I don't know all the details. Like I said, I start following these guys more closely when they become college stars and I really pay attention when/if they get to the NBA.


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