On February 17, O.J. Mayo got embarrassed. In a tight 56-46 loss to the far superior UCLA Bruins, Mayo played the entire game and put up one of his worst stat lines of the season.
Well, he only scored one part of the Dwyane Wade triple double, and it was the turnovers category. That’s right, Mayo turned the ball over 10 times without hitting the double digit points, rebounds, or assists mark. Mayo shot 2 of 8 from the floor and tossed in 4 dimes with 9 boards, but the loss dropped USC to 15-9 with a 6-6 Pac-10 record, numbers that surely spelled doom for their March Madness chances.
On the morning of February 18, OJ Mayo was averaging strong but alarming numbers. His points were among the highest in the country for freshmen, he was shooting a decent percentage for a guard, and his long range shooting was crisp. Unfortunately, his assist rate was low for a guard and his turnover rate was atrocious. More importantly, his team was playing poorly with him at the helm.
But apparently, something changed after that UCLA loss.
Since then, Mayo and his USC Trojans have been on a tear of sorts. In the three weeks that have elapsed since, USC is 5-1, improving their record to 20-10, 11-7 in the Pac-10. More importantly, they head into the Pac-10 tournament as the #4 seed and added a huge win over #7 Stanford in their final game of the season, giving them a much needed win to boost their record against ranked teams to 3-6. For the Pac-10 tournament, they draw an Arizona State team that they split a pair with this year. Their chances of winning the Pac-10, while still slim, have been improved by avoiding a play-in game or showdown with Washington State (who beat them twice this season), and their at-large resume has improved significantly. The Pac-10 is expected to have between three and five seeds, one of which now looks to be USC, assuming they win at least one conference tournament game.
And if you don’t think O.J. Mayo has been the catalyst for this, you clearly haven’t been watching.
In the six games since his 10-turnover dandy, Mayo has gone on the best stretch of his college career, a stretch that has reminded everyone why we’ve been hearing his name since ninth grade and reminding NBA general managers why they were salivating over him prior to this season.
Yes, O.J. Mayo has managed to quiet some of his critics and, more importantly, position his team for a berth in the NCAA tournament where he can show his stuff on the big stage. How good has Mayo been over this stretch? Examine the following:
Don’t just look at the traditional stuff here, because we all knew Mayo could score and rebound fairly well for a guard. Instead, look at the stats that indicate how he is taking over games. And it’s not a case of increased playing time, because Mayo’s minutes have stayed consistent at a ridiculous 36.7 a night. So the extra 2.7 free throws per game? The ridiculous 3-point shooting percentage? The razor-thin turnover rate? The three fold increase in assist-to-turnover rate? The increased defensive presence?
All of that is legitimate. Despite struggling at points during the season (Mayo has been victim of criticisms such as: he quits when the team is losing, he plays for himself, he is shot-happy to a fault, and more), he has taken his game to a new level when the Trojans really needed it. You’re free to nitpick at this if you’d like, but I have a response.
Too little, too late? He’s a 20-year old kid finding himself as a player and young adult. Additionally, it may be just in time if they sneak into the tourney.
Just trying to help his draft stock? He’s doing a damn good job. Additionally, his numbers indicate that he’s getting teammates involved just as much, if not more than before.
The competition has been weaker? With the exception of Oregon State and California, every team they have faced in this span is within one game of .500 in the Pac-10, and not one of those six teams has more than three non-conference losses, save for the brutal Oregon State Beavers. This is the fourth best conference in the country, keep in mind.
He isn’t responsible for it? According to Draft Express, his usage rate is 28.2%, which is comparable to Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, and Kobe Bryant in the NBA.
He’s doing it at the expense of teammates? Again, I direct you to the team-related numbers, but also consider that his player efficiency rating is a way-above-average 21.9 and his true shooting percentage is 57%, meaning he is very well suited to dominating possessions.
What does all of this add up to? Other than improving the outlook for USC, it should help O.J.’s draft stock significantly. You can expect him to climb higher into the lottery if this trend continues, moving up from the #10 that Chad Ford and NBA Draft.net have him and closer to the #5 Draft Express has him at.
Mayo has gotten an unfair shake from some thus far in his career. A lot of people think that there was too much hype for him in high school, that he is a product of this hype machine rather than basketball skill. People claimed he didn’t have the right head for the game, and that he would be a Marbuyry-type player who posted good numbers on bad teams. Trust me, I was one of these people.
And maybe six games is too small a sample size, and maybe the fact that this is his last stretch of ball before the draft is motivating him, but over the past three weeks he has proven that he can run a team, dominate a game, and do both in an efficient and exciting manner.