Mayo makes good as a rookie
Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo is putting together a strong rookie season
Memphis has the early edge on Minnesota in the Mayo/Kevin Love trade
Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni has been pleased with Mayo's consistency
MINNEAPOLIS -- Living up to expectations cannot possibly be as much fun as exceeding them, or coloring outside their lines entirely.
That's why, as good as O.J. Mayo has been as a rookie guard and go-to scoring option for the Grizzlies, there is more of a ho-hum than ho-ho-ho feel to his first NBA season, a supposed to aspect that drains off some of the surprise and joy.
Look, what Mayo is doing -- leading all the new guys in scoring (20.2 points through Monday), averaging nearly 38 minutes, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals, while making 46.3 percent of his rookie-high 16.4 shots per game -- beats most of the alternatives. No one wants to arrive with low or no expectations and then live down to them. Worse still would be falling way short of other folks' and your own lofty hopes, dreams and fantasy-league projections.
But when you first get mentioned in Sports Illustrated at age 14, when recruiters are flocking to your personal Web site when you should still be flocking to the Clearasil tube, it's hard to live up to a bar set by your own bad seventh-grade self.
So far, though, so good.
"This is my job now,'' Mayo said Monday morning, after a shootaround in Minneapolis. "I love it. I love the game of basketball. I enjoy competing every night that we play. I enjoy, even when you're tired from travel and back-to-backs, finding something within just to compete hard and stay at a high level. All of it is really fun to me. You're going to have bad games, good games, mediocre games -- there are 82 games, a long season. It all just comes with it. You have to make sure you learn and bounce back.''
Mayo, who turned 21 in November, has been giving nearly as many lessons as he has been getting. In offensive basketball, in the precociousness of youth, even in history. And why not, considering the guy played six years of varsity basketball in high school (Kentucky allowed seventh- and eighth-graders to participate), led schools in two different states to multiple titles and was hanging with Jay-Z at the ABCD Camp before his 18th birthday.
Did you know that, when Mayo scored 31 points at Denver on Nov. 9 and followed with 33 points 24 hours later at Phoenix, he became only the fifth rookie in NBA history to get at least 30 on back-to-back nights so early into his career? The others: Wilt Chamberlain (1959), Sidney Wicks (1971), Bernard King (1977) and Darrell Griffith (1980). When he kept his streak of double-digit point totals intact for Memphis' first 25 games, Mayo climbed to sixth on the chart (since 1979-80) of rookies and such streaks, short of Terry Cummings' 239 games, Michael Jordan's 89 and David Robinson's 77 but better than Magic Johnson's 21 and Larry Bird's 20.
And if he is able to maintain his scoring average through all 82 games, the Grizzlies' 6-foot-4 shooting guard would become only the 17th rookie in the past 25 seasons -- and the sixth guard -- to average 20 or more. Excluding relative newbie Kevin Durant, 14 of the other 15 players on that list won NBA championships, built Hall of Fame careers or both (sorry, Ralph Sampson).
"Right now, I'd say O.J. has had a tremendous start to the year,'' Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale said. "He's got that stroke, a beautiful stroke, and that's what allows O.J. to score points in this league.''
McHale knows all about that stroke. It's one of the assets that persuaded the then-vice president of basketball operations to draft Mayo with the third pick in last June's draft, a move immediately greeted with a-star-is-born zeal by fans gathered publicly at the Wolves' headquarters. Assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg announced the pick to the crowd, stirred its enthusiasm, then was met by a reporter in the elevator back to Minnesota's war room.
"Did you draft Mayo to keep him?'' I asked him.
Hoiberg seemed surprised, then said: "Uh ... yes. Yes.''
Approximately four hours later, Mayo was the property of the Grizzlies, traded in an eight-player deal before his Wolves cap in New York had even been stretched into shape. McHale sent him to Memphis to add two pieces (No. 5 pick Kevin Love and veteran shooter Mike Miller) for one and to clear salary-cap space. But in that instant, based on McHale's record for drafts and deals, any fans in the Twin Cities still monitoring Web sites knew for certain: This Mayo kid is going to be a star. Minnesota let him get away.
It's a sore subject around Target Center, barely scabbed over and thoroughly picked at Monday with the Grizzlies in town for the first time since that night. The ouch was eased a little when the Wolves won 108-98 in overtime and Love, meeting the competitive challenge, got 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench. That was nearly as many points as the former UCLA big man had scored in his eight previous appearances combined (21).
"I tell you what, if that's what it takes to motivate you, you shouldn't be in the NBA,'' McHale said when asked if he thought the matchup with Mayo sparked Love's game. "You need a new job. You need to be an accountant for, what was one of those firms that went under? One of the many.''