Tuesday, November 11, 2008

O.J. Mayo is real

Regular readers here will have noticed that I've developed a bit of an obsession with this year's Memphis Grizzlies. And while it may seem obvious to sing rookie O.J. Mayo's praises after back to back 30+ point games, I want to point out that he has looked amazing since the beginning of the year, even when his shot wasn't falling and he shot 5-20.

And we shouldn't forget how good he is when he inevitably hits a shooting slump sometime during the season, and his 3-point percentage sinks to the low 30s (currently at 44%, which would be extremely high for anyone, let alone a rookie). Because his recent success isn't just about getting on a hot-streak. He just . . . gets it. He goes to just the right places off the ball, doesn't waste any motion or energy, his shooting form is perfect, he splits double teams, he converts when he gets close to the basket, he never panics, he never forces bad shots and makes very few bad decisions . . ..

The thing that's most surprising about Mayo, though, is the extent to which he's seemingly emerged fully formed from the NCAA. Eight games into his NBA career, and he looks like a vet. There are certain characteristics that we can generally count on from rookies. Even the most promising big men will struggle with foul trouble early on, and the most promising perimeter players will have too many turnovers. Except for Mayo -- who is only turning the ball over on 13.1% of his posessions. Watching the games, it's nice to see how he protects the ball in traffic and keeps his dribble low when he's outside. 

And everything he does is smooth. He doesn't look any faster than any other player, but every now and then you seem him get a steal and run out on the fast break, and it's like he's barely trying but he just floats by everyone else. And then when gets to the basket, there's no violent Lebron-like finish -- he just floats through the air and settles the ball into the rim, then turns around and gets back on defense.

The only thing he didn't do consistently early on was get to the free throw line (only had 6 attempts through his first four games, though he's taken 19 in the last four), and even that didn't seem so much a flaw as a part of his myth -- the game was so effortless and smooth and fluid, that he couldn't be bothered to sully his aura with base physical contact. 

Anyways, in last night's game against Phoenix, Mayo got his first turn at point guard, and looked great there -- bringing the Grizzlies back from a large deficit and almost pushing them to a win over the Suns while scoring 20 fourth quarter points. Over and over again, he made the right decisions coming off the ball screen in the pick and roll, and here again, he didn't look like a rookie.

It is very early, but this year's rookie class looks to be something special. 

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