Part 2: Mayo Vs. Jet - Can OJ Be An Upgrade?

Piece-by-piece, What Are The Mavs Building? How does Mayo compare to Jet? Part 1 of the series compared Kaman to Haywood. Frankly, it's easy to keep emotion out of that. Now to O.J. vs. Jet ... And while we use Synergy and The Eye Test to evaluate, we can't lie: It's impossible to avoid factoring in pro-Jet emotion when fiddling with these test tubes:



Certainly, the Dallas Mavericks' best hope of replacing the departed Jason Terry lies with the newly-acquired O.J. Mayo. Conventional on-paper wisdom allows Dallas officials to term the move an "upgrade'' – Mayo is nearly a decade younger, more athletic, a stouter defender with a more well-rounded offensive game.

That's "on paper.''

On the move, said Mark Cuban, Mayo "knows how to impact a game. We were looking at players and … you want to get somebody that the other team has got to game-plan for, that the other team is afraid of at the end of the game, that they can make something happen. We didn't really have someone who could really just create off the dribble, who we could just give the ball. Jet was a great shooter. Jet did a lot of amazing things, but we needed somebody who could get a lot younger and do a lot of the same things and then some."
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That is all true in the sense that Jet was an "unconventional 2-guard.'' He didn't create in the way Mayo can ... though he certainly created, and in doing so was a championship key.

However, what do the numbers say? Is Mayo an upgrade or will the JET be missed more than we realize? A stats-heavy comparison.

The Basics:

Jason Terry – 15.1 ppg, .430 FG%, 3.6 apg, 2.4 rpg, 15.8 PER

OJ Mayo – 12.6 ppg, .408 FG%, 2.6 rpg, 3.2 rpg, 14.8 PER

The basic numbers off last year favor Terry, slightly. Both Mayo and Terry were employed similarly last season, as bench players who provided fourth-quarter scoring.

The similarity in their numbers is striking (following stats via DB.com colleague Mark Followill). Last season, in the fourth quarter, JET scored 313 points, while Mayo notched 321, numbers that put both in the top 10 in the league. Though JET is known as a fourth-quarter marksman from downtown and hit 49 three-pointers, good for second in the league, the next player on the list is ... Mayo.

He hit 43 such shots. Mayo did it without going viral (there are no "Mr. Fourth Quarter'' videos for him). But both achieved similar results, and both shoot similarly in the final period as well, Terry hitting 43.8% of his shots and Mayo 41.6%.

However, Mayo is not intended to be a bench player in Dallas. Mayo spent the first two seasons of his career as a starter and thus, its probably more applicable to let those numbers be our guide to what we can expect here.

And this is where we let Mayo optimism creep in.

In his first two seasons, Mayo averaged 18.0 ppg, .448 FG%, .384 3FG%, 3.1apg, 3.4 rpg. Those are enticing numbers, and when placed next to a player like Dirk, they could get even better.

Mayo recently said, "I think I'm a better player now than [as a rookie]. Even though the stats don't show it, I'm mentally and physically a better player. I'm just looking forward to going out there and getting the opportunity to show that I'm a starting guard in this league and I can compete with the other starting guards in this league and compete at a high level."

Lets look at what his game might look like here.

Offense:

Like Terry, Mayo's offense is built on the pick-and-roll ball handler and spot-ups. The advanced stats favor Terry in both situations as the JET was good for 0.84 points per possession in P&R sets compared to just 0.68 for Mayo. Though Mayo was not without able P&R partners in Memphis (Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol certainly qualify), none reached the level of Dirk Nowitzki and it's probably reasonable to expect a jump in Mayo's P&R effectiveness when he plays the two-man game with Dirk.

In spot up situations, JET was nearly elite-level, hitting 1.18 ppp while Mayo scored just 0.99 ppp, a drop off from 21st in the league to 123rd. As Cuban said, Mayo can certainly do many of "the same things," as Jet, but what about the "and then some," part?
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Mayo's offensive game is more diverse than the JET's. Mayo is much more of an all-around "scorer," to JET's "shooter." Whereas P&Rs and spot-ups comprised over 50% of the plays used by JET last season (according to Synergy), they account for fewer than 40% of the Mayo's plays. Indeed, nearly 18% of Mayo's FG's came in transition, where he scored a surprisingly average 0.95 ppp (243rd in the league).

Last season, Mayo achieved his greatest success in isolation, off screens and hand-off sets; combined, they represent about a quarter of his total plays. In isolation, Mayo netted 0.84 ppp, good for 59th in the league and just a shade under JET's 0.86 ppp. Off screens, he was good for 0.89 ppp, 55th in the league.

Taken together these numbers paint a picture of a player, Mayo, who does not achieve on the same level in Terry's niche areas, but ultimately boasts a more complete offensive game than that of his predecessor.

Again, on paper.

However, there are two big caveats that bear repeating here. One, Mayo is scheduled to be a starter, not a reserve, and his numbers improve across the board when he is given more time on the court. Further, his numbers will likely benefit from the "Nowitzki Bump," of playing alongside a transcendent talent like The UberMan, who will draw much of the attention of the defense.

Furthermore, the Dallas offense sorely needs his diverse array. Last season, it was not the Dallas defense minus Chandler and Stevenson that was the central concern (no matter how many times Barkley said so). Rather, it was an offense that too often relied on little more than isolation and pick-and-rolls from Nowitzki and Terry that led to the team's regression.

The lack of offensive dimension hurt Dallas.

Mayo's arrival, as well as the credible offensive threat from the PG and C positions, elements last year's squad lacked, that offer the promise of progress for the upcoming season.

Defense:

It is the other end of the floor that many are looking to Mayo to improve upon the effectiveness of his predecessor. According to Basketball Reference, Mayo sports a career 110 defensive rating, essentially a measure of how many points a player surrenders per 100 possessions. Further, that number has improved every season, and his rating last season was 103. Last season, Terry's defensive rating was 106.

However, advanced numbers do not reflect this expected improvement. Indeed, Mayo at times catches criticism for not always playing hard on defense. He struggles against size, but was surprisingly successful against Russell Westbrook in the playoffs two seasons ago. Overall, he surrenders 0.93 ppp, ranking 370th in the league, near the bottom of all SG's. Most often he guards the ball handler in P&Rs, where he surrenders 0.83 ppp, good for a modest 142nd in the NBA. In spot up situations, he surrenders 1.05 ppp, ranking an abysmal 303rd in the league.

Though Terry was never known as a defender, he surrendered only 0.82 ppp and only .367 shooting to opponents last season, a good deal better than Mayo's numbers and Mayo's opponents' .415 FG%. Further, Terry's numbers as a 3FG defender are superior, surrendering only .322 3FG%, compared to Mayo's .401 3FG%. They both foul at about the same rate, about 4.5% of the time and both force turnovers at about an 11% clip.
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The key with Mayo is potential, which can be both frustrating and tantalizing. He has the size and athleticism that lead many to believe he could have become (and may still be) a star in this league. And for certain, he should be an improved finisher at the rim compared to Terry ... which can mean more of the elusive "easy baskets'' for Dallas. On defense, his athleticism and size should provide him with enough tools to surpass the JET, and he's shown the ability, at times, to be a more than capable defender.

However -- and this is where the facts conflict with The Eye Test -- advanced stats do not favor him over Terry, yet. His numbers have been on a downward trajectory since his rookie year. Mavs fans can hope much of that can be attributed to his environment in Memphis. There is reason to believe a change of scenery, guided by Rick Carlisle and flanked by Nowitzki, that Mayo's production can return to where it was as a rookie and beyond.

If it does so, we can begin to get as emotionally attached to the unique potential of Mayo as we were to the unique production of Jason Terry.

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