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In two games against the similarly awful Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz in early March, Milwaukee Bucks off guard O.J. Mayo combined to miss 10 of 14 shots over 44 minutes of play, contests the Bucks split. In the next outing, Mayo decided to punch New Orleans Pelicans big man Greg Steimsma, more than earning a one game suspension along the way.
In the three games since, despite Milwaukee’s offensive woes, Mayo has played just four combined minutes, including two benchings due to a coach’s decision. This is hardly the outlook that oft-criticized Bucks general manager John Hammond had planned for when he signed Mayo to a three-year, $24 million contract last summer.
Bucks coach Larry Drew explained Mayo’s absence from the rotation, in favor of a three-guard triptych featuring new addition Ramon Sessions, rookie Nate Wolters, and first-year Buck Brandon Knight, prior to sitting Mayo out of Milwaukee’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday. From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"O.J. is a real pro. The one thing i tell him is just 'You've got to stay ready.' He missed a stretch of games due to illness. He got out of rhythm; he lost conditioning. We've been trying to work with him as far as getting it back.
"But right now that three-man rotation has been so good and I really don't want to disrupt that. I've had a sitdown talk with O.J. and just said, 'Look, you've got to stay ready for me.' He gave me the nod that he would. He was very, very good about it."
Drew said Mayo still is making strides with his conditioning.
"I don't think he is where he was at the beginning," Drew said. "I think he would admit that."
Here’s the situation – has O.J. Mayo been a “real pro” about this? I mean, he may have been a mensch for not lashing out after Drew basically told him he wasn’t going to be getting any minutes, but what about the months that led up to this?
Larry Drew referenced Mayo being out of shape after missing the first two and a half weeks of February, and that’s somewhat understandable, but it’s been about a month since O.J. returned to game action, and he doesn’t look anything like that guy that was fighting for a contract this time last year in Dallas. He looked out of shape to start the season, more so than most NBA players do in mid-autumn, and he’s played terribly all year. Alongside some daffier pursuits.
Nearly two months ago, Mayo complained to the press about inconsistent playing time after sitting through the indignity of single-digit minute outings in two games spread out over a 13-minute span. From the Journal-Sentinel:
"It's hard to get a rhythm when you don't know what's going to happen for you night in and night out. You may get 6 minutes, 30 minutes. There's no staple to what we're doing. You can hang in there, compete and keep it close.
"If you don't have a backbone to what you do, whether it's going to be a defensive thing, an up-tempo thing, a pound-it-in-the-paint thing, a drive-and-kick thing. We've got to find a staple as a team."
The last part is understandable, Hammond had put together a mish-mosh of a team even before Larry Sanders went down with injury, and Larry Drew hasn’t exactly put his mark on either side of the ball for the squad with the worst record in the NBA. But Mayo – who, again, played that “six minutes” game just twice in a 13-game span – really needs a stat sheet print out. If you didn’t know anything about O.J. Mayo’s rather solid NBA past prior to 2013-14, you’d deduce that the guy with the 10.9 Player Efficiency Rating, the one who manages just 2.4 free throws per 36 minutes of play while shooting just 40 percent from the floor only deserves single digit minutes per night.
Mayo is putting up 11.6 points per game in nearly 29 minutes an outing, but he doesn’t really contribute anywhere else, and he doesn’t put up those 11.6 points up in a terribly efficient manner. For the talent that was, as a teenager, counted on to be an all-around terror in terms of distributing and pulling in rebounds from the off guard position, it’s a shame that O.J. is only contributing a combined 6.3 rebounds/assists per 36 minutes of play.
And the Bucks have two more years left of this guy, for $16 million total.
We understand why Mayo might not be enthused. The Bucks have long been a franchise without a proper leader, because while owner Herb Kohl and Hammond (two good guys, it should be noted) both pay lip service to wanting to remain competitive, the continuous series of bum moves these two have cobbled together over the last few years (or, in Kohl’s case, far longer) has created a situation with a middling ceiling and a worst case scenario that … well, they’re in it. And though Milwaukee may earn the top pick in this June’s NBA draft, Bucks fans remain fearful of Hammond and Kohl leading a rebuilding movement that they didn’t want all over again.
If this depresses Mayo, we don’t blame him. He should have seen this coming, though, before latching on with the Bucks, who were likely offering far more money than anyone else last summer. If O.J. wanted a different experience, he could have taken less money to latch on with a sure winner, but he chose the bucks and the Bucks. And despite the good marks from the sit down meeting, he hasn’t really deserved a coach like Larry Drew crediting him for remaining a “pro” even while earning DNP-CDs while an afterthought trade acquisition, second round pick rookie, and Brandon Knight outplay him.
It’d be nice for Milwaukee Bucks fans to think that they only have one more month of this until the season ends, and two more months until they find out where they’ll be picking in the loaded 2014 draft, but John Hammond’s reality has made it so the length of these collective concerns will drag on for much, much longer.
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