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O.J. Mayo – Poised to Break Out in 2012-2013

May 2, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard O.J. Mayo (32) reacts after sinking a shot during the second half of game two in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedEx Forum. Memphis won 105-98. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Few players in the NBA needed a change of scenery this off-season as much as O.J. Mayo. After an impressive first season (18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists a game) where he was named Rookie of the Year runner-up to Derrick Rose in 2008-2009 and an equally solid sophomore campaign with the Memphis Grizzlies where it seemed as though the sky was the limit, Mayo was relegated to a sixth man role by coach Lionel Hollins in his next two seasons and his minutes and stats took quite a hit as a result.

After averaging 17.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game in 2009-2010 while playing 38 minutes a night, Mayo’s minutes were cut to 26.3 and 26.8 the past two seasons. His shooting percentages took a dip as he shot 40.7 (2010-11) and 40.8 (2011-12) percent from the field compared to 43.8 (2009) and 45.8 (2010) and he didn’t averaged more than 12.6 points a game during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

It also did not help that Mayo experienced some off the court troubles as well, including an infamous fight on the plane with teammate Tony Allen over a gambling debt and a ten-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program. By all accounts however, Mayo handled his new sixth man role with the Grizzlies in stride and was a professional despite the decreased playing time and frequent trade rumors. Mayo was even included in a trade to the Indiana Pacers at the 2011 trade deadline that was not completed due to the paperwork being sent to league offices too late.

Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and Mayo’s free agency, O.J. does not turn 25 until November and teams including the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Phoenix Suns showed strong interest before Mayo eventually signed with the Dallas Mavericks on a 2-year, 8.5 million dollar deal with a player option for the second year. He joins Elton Brand, Darren Collison and Chris Kaman as part of a new look Mavericks squad expected to form a solid supporting cast for superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s not as though Mayo forgot how to play the game, he is one of the most decorated high school players in recent memory and has everything it takes to be a prolific guard in the NBA. He has always been able to score, has nice ball handling skills and has shown the ability to be a very good defender in addition to his above average athleticism and strength. In Dallas, he should be immediately starting at shooting guard where his main competition is the corpse formerly known as Vince Carter and can even play the point guard position in spurts. In other words the minutes are there for the taking.

I fully expect O.J. Mayo to replicate, if not surpass Jason Terry’s production with the Mavericks and become the 18-20 point a game scorer fans and people around the league expected him to be when drafted with the 3rd pick of the 2008 NBA Draft. This is the perfect opportunity for O.J. to realize his potential, he can make himself some substantial money and find more long term security in his next contract assuming he plays at a high level in his time in Dallas. While Mark Cuban may have struck out on Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this summer, he may have found himself a great discount in the signing of O.J. Mayo while maintaining financial flexibility for future seasons.

 

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Amar’e Stoudemire, Man on a Mission

Mar 9, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire (1) dunks during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Amar’e Stoudemire played some of the best basketball of his career before the All-Star break in 2010-2011, his first season as a New York Knick  averaging 26.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game in the 53 games prior to the All-Star game. Stoudemire helped rejuvenate a fan base starving for a superstar talent and embraced being the face of the franchise rewarding Knicks faithful by playing at close to an MVP level.

Even after the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade, Amar’e still posted strong numbers averaging 23.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game in the 25 games after the Anthony acquisition.

It is safe to say however that year 2 in New York was one to forget for Amar’e Stoudemire. Between the death of his brother, dealing with injuries, struggling to form chemistry with Carmelo who is also an alpha personality on the court, twitter beefs gone wrong and losing fights with fire extinguishers, Amar’e disappointed Knicks fans everywhere this past season.

While Amar’e posted a respectable stat line of 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, it is still far below his standards and not what New York got excited about when they signed him to a near 100 million dollar contract in the summer of 2010. Nagging injuries seemed to rob STAT of his game-changing explosiveness and forced him to rely more on his jumper, which can help explain his lowest field goal percentage over a full season (48.3 percent) since his 2003-2004 year.

Normally you would think a player turning 30 in November whose greatest asset is his athleticism is trending downhill and has seen his best days as a NBA player. And in the scenario of Amar’e, you may be correct to assume that. He is at times allergic to playing defense, has never averaged 10 rebounds a game for a season despite his size and athletic prowess and is not the most durable individual in the league.

On the other hand, there are other reasons to feel that the 2011-2012 season was an abberation for STAT. Amar’e recently got engaged to long time girlfriend Alexis Welch, the mother of his three children and this may have a calming affect on his game. If you don’t believe me, ask Lebron James how stability in his relationship with his fiancee helped his life on and off the court.

Luckily for Amar’e, he has proven the ability to bounce back from injuries in the past. He was able to regain his explosiveness after having microfracture knee surgery during the 2005-2006 season while a member of the Phoenix Suns and his injuries that slowed him in 2011-2012 were nowhere near as serious. An off-season of rest and minimal distractions may work wonders for STAT.

Perhaps the most encouraging reason for Amar’e to bounce back in a big way in 2013 however is the work he has put in with Hakeem Olajuwon to expand his low post game. Ever since Kobe Bryant visited the Hall of Famer down in Houston in the summer of 2009, this has become a rite of passage for other NBA superstars to seek Olajuwon’s tutelage. Dwight Howard and Lebron James are among other prominent NBA players who have followed suit. Amar’e for all of his skills offensively is not particularly polished in the low post. When playing under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix and New York, Amar’e thrived off pick and roll and didn’t necessarily need a post game. Coach Mike Woodson inspired Amar’e to visit Hakeem as he expects Amar’e to operate more on the block in the upcoming season and I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t look good in the post from this clip, my only word of advice to STAT  is to wear longer shorts in the future.

Amar’e has talked a big game of late, proclaiming anything less than a championship is a bust while at the Las Vegas Summer League and this season is his chance to back it up on the biggest stage, I don’t expect the Knicks to be in the championship conversation but I do believe in Amar’e that he can come back and have a big year. The days of STAT destroying Anthony Tolliver and Adonal Foyle may be behind him but with a refined post game, this may be the perfect recipe to help Amar’e extend his career and get him back to performing at an All-Star level. The greats often find a way to adapt their games once their athleticism leaves them behind, this could be Amar’e Stoudemire’s chance to do the same.

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The Development of Javale McGee: Crucial to Denver’s Championship Aspirations

May 6, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34) reacts during the second half of game four against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Pepsi Center. The Lakers won 92-88. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Javale McGee has instantly become one of my favorite players in the NBA. In addition to helping me out immensely in fantasy basketball for the past 2 seasons and having a milf for a mother (here’s a clip of her getting up close and personal with Dr. J during the 2011 slam dunk contest), he has the ability to amaze for better or worse. If Javale has seen this youtube clip chronicling 8 of his dumbest plays, I’m sure it will make him feel better at night that the individual who edited the video isn’t exactly a genius himself with some of the mistakes made but I digress.

McGee’s fortunes changed for the better as he got traded to a more competent organization, the Denver Nuggets during the 2012 trade deadline in a 3-way deal which brought Nene to Washington and Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers. Javale’s talent has never been in question and GM Masai Ujiri along with the rest of Denver’s organization must have experienced buyer’s remorse in signing Nene to a 5-year, 67 million dollar contract compelling him to pull the trigger on the trade. I’d also experience regrets if I signed a 29 year old big man who isn’t a particularly good defender or has never averaged 15 points or 8 rebounds in a season to a near max extension so props to Ujiri to cutting his losses quick and actually upgrading in the process.

For all the criticism about Javale McGee’s basketball acumen, the man can flat out play the game. He’s a brilliant athlete who probably should have won the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, his creative dunks nor his mother’s buttering up the judges could not change what seemed was a predetermined  decision to have Blake Griffin win as McGee ended up finishing in second place. Javale is very good at protecting the rim as he has finished 2nd in blocked shots the past two seasons and has an emerging offensive game. He is only 24 years old and is signed to a reasonable 4-year, 44 million dollar contract so Nuggets brass also thinks highly of McGee.

Statistically he has improved in each of his first three seasons and his per 36 minutes stats are very impressive since joining the Nuggets, averaging 18 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game while shooting 61.2 percent from the field. McGee performed strongly in the playoffs as well. Despite losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, he averaged close to a double double putting up 8.6 points and 9.6 rebounds with 3.1 blocked shots a game in 25.9 minutes. If he can improve his horrific free throw shooting (he shot 45 percent from the stripe in 2011-2012), even greater things may be on the horizon for the young man.

Javale McGee has also shown a commitment to taking his game to higher levels as evidenced by working with NBA all time great Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon. Hakeem sees great promise in Javale and even went so far as to say McGee should dominate the league in a recent interview with FOX 26 sports. From Mark Berman for MyFoxHouston.com  (via PBT ):

“He has tremendous talent. I give him all these moves and he can finish and he’s already skilled. So now just show him how to use that skill to (get) to the next level.” [...]

“The moves that we work on are not for a stiff big guy,” Olajuwon said. “With him he’s agile. The move flows. So I’m excited to see what he’s going to do this year.”

Hopefully McGee can incorporate some of his newfound moves into his game for the 2012-2013 season. Coach George Karl does a solid job getting the most out of his players and with a very deep supporting cast including Ty Lawson and newly acquired Andre Iguodala, this Nuggets team is capable of making serious noise and should not be slept on by any means. While most of the off-season talk surrounding the Western Conference is about the new look Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder, people would be making a serious mistake if they forget about the Nuggets. If Denver aspires to reach the upper crust of the Western Conference however, McGee must continue to realize his potential and perform at a high level.