When a team is struggling, people demand answers. Why is this team bad? Which players are most responsible? Why are those players playing poorly? Sometimes, the answers are very obvious. Brandon Knight is still trying to learn a new position. Ersan Ilyasova has been injured for the majority of the season. Larry Sanders hates champagne bottles. Their struggles and absences have been easy to explain.
But what about guys who aren’t playing as well as they usually play, without an obvious answer? Guys who have been healthy and have had fairly consistent roles, but haven’t been good. That’s where speculation really starts to take over.
That’s where we’re at with OJ Mayo. Milwaukee’s key offseason acquisition (yikes) has by all measures, been very disappointing this season. He’s shooting a career low percentage from the field, largely because he’s struggling badly around the hoop, inside the paint and on above the break threes.
He’s still a league average shooter from three, but he hasn’t been as good as he was last year. Perhaps it’s been those struggles from deep or his below average performance as a slasher that’s fueled a sudden interest opposing team’s announcers have had lately about just what sort of shape Mayo is in.
He has never looked like a body builder or been known for his tremendous physical gifts. Mayo has always been more clever and crafty than he’s been quick or overpowering. But three separate announcing teams have questioned if maybe Mayo has slipped even further down the physical totem pole this season. The first broadcaster to posit the “Is Mayo out of shape?” question was ex-player Donny Marshall in Brooklyn, and he had quite a bit to say about it.
Donny Marshall: “O.J. Mayo doesn’t look right to me. He looks a little heavy, heavier than I’ve seen him. And there (after getting a J blocked by Livingston) short, much shorter than Livingston trying to shoot over the top, that’s not a good shot.”
Marshall: “I really think O.J. Mayo is not in the shape that he should be in. He looks a little heavier to me. And as much as I love Jason Terry, one of my Seattle guys, the fact that he could not go by Jason Terry off the dribble on that play — and that was the play that got called the technical on — tells me that me he might be just a little bit out of shape, Ian.
Ian Eagle: “Are you insinuating that he should be… holding the Mayo?”
Donny Marshall: “He should absolutely. I set you up for that one.”
Rah rah rah, hold the Mayo. Terrible joke aside, that was just one man’s opinion. But on New Year’s Eve, with no one watching and the Bucks playing on the West Coast in Los Angeles, another announcer, Bill McDonald, who saw Mayo a couple times when he played with the Mavericks last season, wondered the same thing.
Bill McDonald: “Here’s Mayo. You know he’s a scorer. He has the entire repertoire. Looks a little heavier or bigger doesn’t he? Or maybe that’s just the uniform.”
Maybe it was just a bad uniform day. If that was the case, he might have had another one in Utah, where Matt Harpring directly referenced the differences he saw in Mayo between last season and this season.
Harpring: “O.J. Mayo to me looks a little bit out of shape. He’s gained a little weight from last year. But watch Alec Burks right here. Gotta little ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ He turns O.J. Mayo completely around here. WHOA! You never want that on film, Boller (Utah play-by-play man Craig Bollerjack). You’re going to see that the next day and your guys are going to make fun of you.”
Obviously only OJ Mayo really knows if there’s a conditioning issue behind his struggles this season. Given the opportunity that was laid at his feet at the start of this season to be Milwaukee’s primary scorer, logic would indicate he’d at least have some motivation to be prepared to take on a big role. Larry Drew has never publicly pondered about Mayo’s work ethic or stamina, so there might not be much to this.
But these are the sorts of questions that are posed when players struggle without any obvious cause. And these are the sorts of questions that are going to continue to follow the Milwaukee Bucks the rest of this season if the team can’t find a way to win more.