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Posted: Tuesday December 30, 2008 1:52PM; Updated: Tuesday December 30, 2008 6:26PM
Steve Aschburner Steve Aschburner >

Mayo standing out among rookies (cont.)

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Power forward Kevin Love (right), acquired by Kevin McHale (left) in a draft-night trade for O.J. Mayo, has struggled as a rookie.
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Love's learning curve has been steep; a determined rebounder so far (7.8 per game), he has struggled to get his shots, has blown numerous putbacks and is averaging 7.8 points on 39.9 percent shooting in 22.8 minutes, mostly in reserve. Many fans already have declared McHale's draft-day deal a disaster. Others are leaning that way, seeing it as a bookend gaffe with the 2006 decision to draft Brandon Roy -- and immediately swap him for Randy Foye.

"Anybody who looks at it that way, that just shows how immature they are,'' Foye said. He is lugging around the burden of not being Roy for a third season now, so he knows what Love might face. "In his own way, O.J. Mayo is a great player, and in his own way, Kevin Love is a great player. ... They run a lot of stuff for [Mayo]. Just like any go-to guy in the NBA. He gets a lot of shots, he makes a lot of shots.''

That chicken-or-egg thing can get overplayed in pro sports, though, the notion that opportunity is the only thing that dictates performance. If Love were capable of playing more and shooting more, the coach (McHale) or the exec who acquired him (eh, McHale again) would deserve to be fired for holding him back. Then again, Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni wouldn't entrust Mayo with so much responsibility if the rookie weren't capable.

"John Wooden always has said, 'Good things take time,' " Iavaroni said. "You don't want to lose a day, you don't want to lose a practice, a meeting, a shootaround, to apply the lessons learned. But you can only go so fast. ... It's really hard for anyone to be consistent. I think that's the final level; whatever level you're at, to be consistently at that level with few spikes is really what it's all about. I think O.J. has been fairly consistent. He's had few off nights.''

Mayo scored 23 at Minnesota, including a jump shot he created in the lane to tie it with 27 seconds left in regulation. He had 29 points in 52 minutes two nights earlier in Memphis' overtime loss at San Antonio, a day after playing 44 minutes and scoring 18 against Indiana. He has made 22 of his last 39 shots, after a stretch of 18-for-56 shooting. A few times, Iavaroni has kept Mayo on the side to watch, especially after a defensive lapse. There was an instance when he barked at Rudy Gay about a pass not thrown his way, something teammates cleaned up quickly.

"I've had a few ups or downs, the last eight or nine games,'' said Mayo, adding that he flips channels on NBA League Pass -- frequently to games involving Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio -- to see how others at his position play it, particularly on defense. "Really just watching film and watching mistakes. Really just make the easy plays in this league. That's what it's about every night, going with what you do best, the easy play, the high-percentage play. That's all I've really been trying to focus on. No need to press for shots or press for offense. It will come as the game goes.''

Iavaroni, both charged with Mayo's development and subject to it, continues to preach patience, though little has been required.

"I try not to burden players with specific expectations," the coach said.

Oh, so he's the one.

Iavaroni continued: "[The expectations are] that they work very hard, that they are coachable and listen, and that they don't repeat mistakes. ... It's all about making sure that [Mayo] meets our expectations, and that's to work hard and listen.

"You look at Tony Parker -- much-maligned early in his career. You look at several guys who have become excellent players in this league. LeBron James, his first three months, was not very good at all -- people were wondering about that [pick]. But I think that happens to everyone. It's nothing new.''

Mayo, though, is doing mostly what he was, and always has been, expected to do. Everywhere, that is, except in Minnesota.

Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.

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