The Milwaukee Bucks kicked off training camp Tuesday, practicing together as a full team for the first time this season. Of course, no shortage of questions faced a team coming off of a 15-win campaign. The point guard situation is murky at best, the shooting guard spot isn’t much clearer and Larry Sanders has plenty of questions to answer after a disastrous 2013-14 campaign.
Seemingly lost in the sea of more pressing questions is the future of the player who opened last season as the starting shooting guard and ended it buried on the bench.
After bouncing on Media Day early (the team said he had a physical to take), O.J. Mayo spoke to the media (and did a lot of swaying) following Tuesday morning’s session. What happened last season was the furthest thing from this mind, at least the part of his mind that was comfortable talking to the media.
“Last year is dead and buried,” Mayo told Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Ya’ll can dig it up if you want.”
As someone who watched a good chunk of the 1,346 minutes he played last season, the last thing I want to do is dig it up. In fact, I’d like to pile more dirt on top of it, and I bet Mayo would be glad to pick up a shovel and help. Last season was easily the worst of his career. Mayo’s scoring, assists and rebounding numbers all hit career floors – due in large part to a career-low in minutes (25.9), to be fair – and he quickly fell out of favor with then-coach Larry Drew.
“When we signed OJ, I think the five previous seasons, he averaged 15 points, three rebounds and three assists for his career,” John Hammond said on Media Day. “I think for the first, 20-25 games of the season, he was averaging 15 points, three rebounds and three assists. And then things kind of got away from him in the season. I know he wasn’t pleased with how he finished the season. But if you see him today, he looks like he’s in great shape.”
Hammond wasn’t wrong. Through 19 games last season, Mayo was averaging 15.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. And then his season cratered. His shooting percentage kept plummeting, right along side his minutes and, from the perspective of outsiders like us, his confidence in Coach Drew.
DNP-CDs – an acronym typically foreign to players of Mayo’s caliber – began to pile up, and the pounds followed suit. When asked about his weight issues Tuesday, Mayo echoed that he’s moved on from last season.
“I don’t wanna talk about no weight,” Mayo said. “I wanna talk basketball, training camp and this upcoming season.”
Fair enough. While this isn’t exactly the tell-all interview some may have hoped for – “O.J., how many Wendy’s double stacks DID you eat last February?” – it’s certainly encouraging to hear Mayo is focused on moving past last season’s woes. And, yes, what Mayo said is exactly what players are told to say, but there’s a reason for that.
While Mayo had no interest in speaking about last season, he offered a glimpse into how he spent his summer. Unlike John Henson, Khris Middleton and Kendall Marshall, Mayo wasn’t really a part of the Bucks’ offseason promotional barrage, which included highly visible trips to the Wisconsin State Fair, Miller Park and Lambeau Field. Instead of sticking around Wisconsin, Mayo spent time on both coasts, training with gym rat Brandon Knight in Knight’s native Miami and re-enrolling in classes at USC.
He might not want to talk about no weight, but getting his diet under control was a focus during the offseason, according to the Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez:
Mayo says he trained really hard over the summer. Says Knight trains really, really hard. Mayo said he tried juice/salad diets. Mixed it up.
— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) September 30, 2014
Summer classes, and certainly diets, aren’t uncommon practices during the NBA’s offseason. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love each slimmed down with the help of highly publicized diets this summer, and players who leave school early – Mayo left USC after just one season – often return to campus to work toward finishing their degrees. But after the season he endured, it’s especially encouraging to see Mayo apparently rededicating himself during the offseason. The question now is whether or not it will pay dividends.
Putting in work over the summer certainly doesn’t guarantee Mayo anything. However, as I detailed near the end of the summer, he’s in position to work his way back into a consistent role with this team. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but if there’s one thing to take away from Tuesday’s interview, it’s that Mayo is undoubtedly ready to move past the shortfalls that prevented him from reaching his potential last season.
“All that is dead,” Mayo reiterated to Gardner. “I forgot about it. That was about four or five months ago, man.”