The Curious Case Of O.J. Mayo

Can O.J. turn it around in 2014-15? (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Can O.J. turn it around in 2014-15? (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

When you think about O.J. Mayo’s first season in Milwaukee  – which I’m sure you do on a daily, if not hourly, basis – what comes to mind?

Conditioning issues? Mid-play shoe-tying? General disappointment?

All of the above are acceptable answers.

The biggest offseason splash for a team that returned only five players, Mayo was billed as the diverse backcourt threat ready to step into a role as the unquestioned No. 1 scorer. A year prior, he had enjoyed arguably the best first half of his career, taking over as the go-to guy for a Dirk-less Mavs team.

Was he the guy to build a franchise around? Of course not, but he was the right player at the right price for a Bucks team still following the Kohl Model. Mayo could come in, average 20, five and five and, hopefully, lead the charge for the eighth seed.

Suffice it to say that didn’t happen.

From virtually the start of the season, it was clear that the Mayo the Bucks received was not the one they expected. He looked much more like the player he’d curiously morphed into during the second half of the 2011-12 season, when a healthy Nowitzki drastically changed his role in the Mavs’ offense.
Mayo’s production sharply declined when Dirk returned to form.

Despite five 20-plus point performances in the season’s first two weeks, Mayo was shooting just a shade over 41 percent at the end of November. It took nine games before he registered a positive plus-minus rating. His game hadn’t necessarily changed, but the consistency wasn’t there.

Now whether that was Mayo’s fault or simply a product of a mountain of injuries and inconsistent rotations is up for debate, but by the end of January, his season was all but over. In the lineup one night and out the next five, a noticeably huskier Mayo quickly became cheap fodder for Twitter jabs. A rare sight on the Bucks’ bench, Mayo had faded into basketball obscurity by mid-April.

The 2013-14 season wasn’t the first time Mayo experienced a down year. In 2010-11, following impressive rookie and sophomore seasons, Mayo’s numbers tanked, closely mirroring last season’s production. Take a look:

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.15.50 AM

The first thing that jumps out is the drastic decline in minutes – nearly 12 fewer per game. No matter what, that’s going to lead to a drop-off in production. But his field goal percentage dropped more than five percentage points, as did his three-point percentage.

Per-36 minutes – we pretty much have to prorate most of the data to compensate for the drastic swing in minutes – Mayo’s counting stats are nearly identical to the previous season, but that doesn’t change the efficiency issue. In 2010-11, Mayo attempted more shots per-36 but averaged more than a point less than the previous season. His true shooting percentage dropped from 55.1% to 49.9%, while his PER sunk two points.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint a justification for last season’s drop-off – outside of the obvious decline in playing time – a look at the shooting numbers begins to tell the story.

I started by simply looking at his basic shooting breakdown on Overall, Mayo shot 40.7 percent from the field. That’s not very good. But he converted 37.0 percent of his threes, a hair below his career average of 38 percent. So without searching too deeply, it’s clear that while Mayo was well below average as an overall shooter, he was better than the league average (36%) from beyond the arc. And that’s a good thing, considering he attempted more three-pointers per-36 (6.1) than any of his previous seasons. More than 41 percent of Mayo’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, which was nearly eight percent more than his pre-2013-14 career average.

The high shooting volume and (relatively) high success rate somewhat skew Mayo’s shooting numbers, helping to offset his struggles inside the arc. His effective field goal percentage (eFG%), in particular – the metric favors three-pointers, assigning them 1.5 times the value of two-point shots – received a major boost. Mayo’s 48.1 eFG% was by no means outstanding – he ranked 116th among players who averaged 25 or more minutes and appeared in at least 50 games – but it was better than that of Kyrie Irving, Monta Ellis, Ty Lawson, Brandon Knight and Jeff Teague. Was Mayo a better offensive player than any of those guys last season? No way, not even close. But to say he was a complete disaster on that end of the court is inaccurate. In a way, the three-point shot helped salvage what was otherwise a very poor offensive output.

What plagued Mayo more than anything was his trouble around the rim, particularly in driving scenarios. Earlier this week, Jeremy Schmidt examined a similar issue with Kendall Marshall. Both players were effective from deep last season but did not generate efficient scoring opportunities – for themselves or teammates – off the drive.

Not surprisingly, the Bucks were among the NBA’s least efficient teams when driving to the basket, which’s tracking data describes as: Any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks. No qualified Bucks player shot better than 47.7 percent in these situations, but Mayo was exceptionally bad, converting at a lousy 39.1 percent clip while creating minimal opportunities for teammates. Part of the problem was he simply didn’t drive enough, often settling for contested jumpers instead.

Team’s PPG on Mayo’s drives: 2.2

Mayo’s drives per game: 2.1

Mayo’s PPG on drives: 1.2

Mayo’s points per-48 on drives: 2.3

Unfortunately,’s tracking data is only available for 2013-14, so it’s difficult to compare those numbers to previous seasons, but a look at his shooting distance breakdown provides some additional insight (2013-14 highlighted).

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 12.25.27 AM

Interestingly, Mayo shot 55.4 percent from within three feet, per Basketball-Reference. On the surface, that number seems to contradict’s drive data (39.1% FG on drives), but it’s important to note that it also incorporates Mayo’s non-driving field goals (assisted cuts to the rim, offensive rebound put-backs, fast break baskets, and so on). Those are generally high-efficiency attempts, so naturally that’s reflected in the percentage.

A closer look at the numbers shows that the deep mid-range was another problem area for Mayo last season. While he was at his most inefficient in the 3-10 foot range, he attempted more deep mid-range jumpers (21.3 percent of total attempts) than any other two-point shot. I poured through a number of these attempts on video via, and the first thing that jumped out was the high volume of contested shots. As the de-facto No. 1 option in an offense, as Mayo was for the first month or so of the season, you’re going to have to take tough shots from time to time – that’s just how it works. In my mind, the number one reason a player becomes a star in the NBA is because he can hit extremely difficult shots with relative consistency. But here’s what was concerning about many of Mayo’s heaves:

1. How early in the shot clock they often came

2. Where he was on the floor

The first point is fairly self-explanatory: Mayo simply has to know better than to take some of the contested jumpers he attempted last season. The second point is a bit more complicated, but not by much. The mid-range jumper may be a lost art, but maybe there’s a reason for that. From 16 feet to the three-point line – the range Mayo endeared last season – is the most inefficient shot in basketball. Move a few feet up and you’re in great position to either get to the rim or get a look at a high(er) percentage shot. Move a few feet back and the shot is worth another point. I appreciate a well-executed mid-range jumper as much as the next guy every now and then – I really do, I swear – but when a player shoots it as ineffectively as Mayo, it’s time to reevaluate.

All that said, I still believe in O.J. Mayo’s future with the Bucks. I’m probably in the minority, but I genuinely do. The way things are looking right now, he’ll have a great chance to carve out plenty of minutes at shooting guard this season – if he wants them, that is. And, yet, no one seems to be talking about him. That “basketball obscurity” he faded into four months ago has seemingly carried over into the offseason.

At a time when optimism surrounding the franchise is at its highest in years, Mayo is rarely mentioned as part of the future. Hell, he’s rarely mentioned, period. Jabari and Giannis are going to dominate coverage, I get that, but who’s to say Mayo won’t rebound in Year 2? The depths he experienced last season were largely unforeseen, but he’s only 26 and has proven to rebound from sub-par statistical seasons in the past. If he works himself into shape, there’s no reason to believe he can’t, at the bare minimum, be a consistent contributor. I think it’ll take more than one crappy season under a lame duck coach to forever damage his confidence and reputation.

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  1. Sixth man who comes in to dominate second units and occasionally finishes games if he’s playing well. If he accepts that role, he’ll have a nice opportunity to bounce back. If he doesn’t accept it, he makes his own bed.

  2. Speak Sleek to Critique the Greek Freaks Peak

    God I really hope Mayo can be a respectable role player at the least. With all the optimism, I worry this and a couple other contracts will continue to hold the bucks back. Ersan Mayo Sanders and Pachulia are owed over 32 million in 2015-2016. Then 17/18 Giannis is a RFA, and 18/19 Parker is as well. I am predict ing huge contracts for those two, so 2016/17 is the year to make some noise.

  3. I’m hoping he can bounce back as well. I just hope having a new coaching staff, perhaps one that’s more respected by OJ.Mayo, will have him motivated to discover and display his true potential.

  4. The Bucks should dump him if they can. Analyze the numbers all you want but the people he surrounds himself with are questionable at best and his work ethic is bad. Get him far far away from a young team.

    • what people are you referring to in regards to your comment “…but the people he surrounds himself with are questionable at best…”?

    • Still a fatass, nothing has changed people, open your eyes, he sucks, let’s trade him for a bag of basketballs.

  5. There’s more going on than meets the eye–his little brother drops out of Marquette; maybe neither Mayo wants to stay in Milwaukee.
    Regardless, he needs to be a pro: get in shape, compete, and contribute; but I dont’t see him wanting to do that.

  6. I pretty much agree with all of u!!! But just because he had a bad year, doesnt mean no one wants him!!! I just means no one is speaking up….. We DONT have a Veterant leader on this team, and that HURTS!!! As long as we have Ersan, it limits Parkers minutes… I would love to see Parker win ROY, but I dont think thats important… He Needs to be mentoured by a Josh Smith type of player on Defense!!! SO, Package Ersan and Mayo and maybe a 1st pick for Josh Smith… We have 3 rotationable pgs to play at PG/SG… WE dont need Mayo!!! Trade em NOW!!!!!!


      Why the F’ would we want Josh Smith on this team and especially if it required us giving away a valuable 1st round draft pick asset?

      You’re insane.

    • Josh Smith is NOT worth that much. Honestly he could even be worse for the team than Mayo. Both are very selfish and arrogant and could be horrible influences on this young team. Lets not trade poison for poison. There are many more talented players out there that we could possibly get for Mayo and Ersan. Giving up a 1st round pick for Smith would be a HUUUUGE mistake.

  7. They need to get rid of Mayo’s 8 Million dollar salary as soon as possible, so that they can either pursue Bledsoe with a contract offer higher than what Phoenix has already offered, or free up cap space for another team trade involving other players. It’s not a good situation. If he stays, next season he is lucky to compete for 15 minutes a game and will not average more than 9 points. He was in Milwaukee collecting an 8 Million dollar pay check last season, and had no intentions of making a difference – period. Nonetheless, this guy seriously needs to go, along with Ilyasova. I cannot imagine that any NBA team would part with a valuable to semi-decent player for the likes of Mayo, given his poor performance last season and “do nothing” attitude. However, the Bucks may be able to land a Second Round draft pick for him. There are teams out there who need journeyman guards and back ups. I know that Hammond is probably trying to work a trade that involves Ilyasova (and possibly others) going to another team, but don’t expect Mayo to be part of that trade. Acquiring Mayo was just a very bad decision to start with, more than likely forced upon Hammond by Kohl. The time has come to part ways – this “do nothing” poison cannot be sitting on Milwaukee’s bench next season.

    • Before the Bucks give serious thought to bringing Bledsoe on board they need to find out what exactly happened with his knees. How much meniscus was removed from both of his knee in the injury he sustained last year and how much was removed from the injury he sustained earlier in his career? Don’t want to have a guy on the team who’ll be a health risk in line with what the Heat have to deal with in Dwayne Wade at the price E.Bledsoe would command. A highly talented and explosive athlete who’s improving his game but one that comes with lots of future health risks — lots.

      • I would agree. But based upon stories coming out of Phoenix, he seems to be just fine.

        I personally am not a big fan of either Mayo or Ilyasova, and would love to see both of them traded away as soon as possible. Just exactly how do these guys fit into the future plans of the team? Mayo is who he is as a player, and Ilyasove is a tall, slow, stiff, non-energetic player who is injury prone, and has one good game out of every five games played. You don’t win ball games in today’s NBA with these kind of players. They are also “eating” an exorbitant amount of cap space for a “do very little for your team” return on investment. These guys were tremendous contract mistakes to say the least.

        • I’m not going to hate on their contracts as much as I hate on Z.Pachulia’s because I at least understood the reasoning behind their contract offers.

          OJ.Mayo had demonstrated during the season he was with the Mavericks that he could be that major scoring option for a team; he proved it while Dirk was out of commission. It appeared as if he just needed an opportunity where he could be sort of the “man” and the Bucks could certainly offer that opportunity, but damn did he F’ that opportunity up. Now as a Bucks fan you have to hope that this year can be a bounce back year for him and hopefully having a new coaching staff helps motivate him in trying to make a better first impression on the staff and team then he did last year. I’d love to see him bounce back and increase his value across the league so that maybe the Bucks can look to trade him mid-season to a potential contender for a future asset or for some other young player that they believe will be a better fit for the team going forward.

          E.Ilaysova’s contract made some sense when he signed it in that he was an excellent shooting stretch four that seemed like his game was improving and finally becoming more consistent. Finding an excellent shooting stretch four isn’t easily done in the NBA so the Bucks appeared to have been a decent signing with Ilyasova. Problem has been that Ilyasova’s shooting went to hell and any consistency went out the door too. Part of the problem can be blamed on injuries, but another problem is that if he’s not providing consistent shooting and rebounding he doesn’t really provide anything at all since the rest of his game is pretty much a major weakness. As a Bucks fan what you have to hope for is that he too can bounce back and increase his league wide value so that the Bucks can potentially move him in a mid-season trade for a similar thing to what I mentioned with OJ.Mayo.

          I think Z.Pachulia is another candidate for the same treatment, but his value is never going to get any higher than it probably is right now so if they can’t figure out a way to move him now then they probably will have to invest pairing an asset with him to jettison him from the team which I simply don’t see happening. I think the Bucks may be forced to ride out this year of his contract and potentially could look to move him in his last year as an attractive expiring contract to a team looking to clear cap space after the season.

          • L…..

            I completely agree with what you are saying, which is exactly in part why they are not good players, by any stretch of the imagination.

            Mayo made pretty good money from the Bucks last season for very little in return. He had major attitude issues and “gave up” on the team because he disagreed with coaching philosophies and was quick to mentally exit, which is why he lost his starting role and ended up on the bench. He “was” part of the team chemistry poison that resonated throughout the club last season. There is absolutely no way that the Bucks can afford to bring that attitude back into the clubhouse and allow it to fester into the gutters of a younger, optimistic and more ambitious team. As for Ilyasova, I lost all respect for him when he demanded to be traded later last season. Especially after Kohl went out on a limb to pay him “way more” money than he was worth, market-wise, to stay in Milwaukee. To say the least, Ilyasova was simply “not good enough” to walk up to management the way he did last season and make demands to be traded over their future direction. He “is” part of the poor team chemistry that is carrying over from last year. More importantly, as a player, he is always injured, moves slow, is inconsistent, and at times, looks way too much like our old buddy “Freddie Roberts” out there on the basketball floor. I certainly hope that he is NOT in a Bucks uniform next year.

            I say that the sooner the Bucks send Mayo and Ilyasova packing, the better. Certainly better from an overall “team chemistry” perspective. Larry Sanders is another component of that “rock bottom” team chemistry carrying over from last season. However, in his defense, he has shown a different face this year and seems very eager and optimistic to be on the team all of a sudden. So maybe he has turned a corner – time will tell. However, this is not the case with Mayo and Ilyasova.

            Bottom line – I say that we send Mayo and Ilyasova packing as soon as possible. Two second round picks and over 15 million dollars in cleared up cap space for these beyotch-like, bench moaning, team chemistry killing basketball losers would certainly be an early Christmas gift for the Bucks, to say the least.

        • Low-energy is definitely not the way to describe Ers. HA. He was hurt last year. Kidd has a crush on him, and he will bounce back this year. I wish i could say the same for Mayo, as i was a fan. I just wouldn’t believe myself.

  8. Everyone needs to chill out about getting rid of contracts. When Gainnis becomes an unrestricted FA the only two players we will still have on the books (Other than rookie contracts and fill in players) are Larry and Jabari. Then the next year it will be just Giannis and Larry when we need to resign Jabari. Selling this low on both OJ and Irsan is foolish, both are coming off their worst years of their careers and they are both entering their prime age (27-29). Trading them now would be a “Lets free up cap space so we can sign a FA and become contenders for the playoffs next year” not a “Lets get the most assets we can for the players we trade so we can develop a perennial contender here in Milwaukee” move. Surround Giannis and Jabari with young potential filled prospects. Just realize, even after his miserable year last year their were whispers that we might be able to get a late lottery pick for him this past draft, now if he returns to shooting in the mid 40% range from three and rebounds like hes shown he can imagine what we could get for him.

    • Um there were no whispers that we could get a late lottery pick for Ersan last draft. Hammond basically said the best offer was a 2nd and expiring. A Bucks poster on RGM who has had inside info in the past stated that they could have got a mid first-rounder for him early last season, before he sucked I would guess. Most teams that have lotto picks to trade have no need for Ersan, most teams that might have a need for Ersan don’t have cap space or lotto picks. If we are really lucky we might get a late first and expiring for Ersan. It’s hard when you’re comparing positions and PG is more stacked that PF but Houston had to give up a 1st rounder for the Lakers to take Jeremy Lin who had roughly the same dollar amount owing.

  9. Mayo’s role on the bucks this year will be different than last year, by far. Kidd and Drew run completely different systems and kidd is more of a disciplinarian than drew (extremely young team so a disciplinarian is a good thing). I think a lot of this is in Mayo’s head, so IF he buys in, he can be the 3rd option scorer were looking for. The biggest linch-pin to how this season will go will be how wolters and knight develop under kidd. As they go, so goes the team, even though neither is the biggest scorer or best defender. Knowing a little of what I do about kidd’s coaching philosophy these are the roles I can say for key players this season.

    larry- rim protector/help defender/ cleanup specialist (its all he knows how to do)
    john- rim-point forward, meaning on the rebound, he’s the one that makes the best decisions, passing or scoring.
    giannis- classic point forward/ offense creator on the breakdown
    jabari- go to scorer
    brandon- a surpisingly tier 2 pg defender he still cant defend elites well, but few can. /2nd option scorer
    nate- offensive system floor general
    ersan- playing for a contender by midseasson, lol

    everyone else on the team will do what they do best as role players and not much else as expected.

  10. Everyone needs to relax!
    The Bucks were never meant to compete last year, they made that clear when they shipped out Jennings and Ellis.
    It was clear that the team wanted to play the rookies and build the team, there was never a reason to ride Mayo.
    Oj has had stellar game attendance since he entered the league. I wouldnt doubt it if the management told him to relax and get ready for a real push next year.
    Bucks are still not contenders but I expect 2014-15 to be a much better season.