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.
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:
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 NBA.com. 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 NBA.com’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, NBA.com’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).
Interestingly, Mayo shot 55.4 percent from within three feet, per Basketball-Reference. On the surface, that number seems to contradict NBA.com’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 NBA.com 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 NBA.com, 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.