After a brutal stretch from late December to early January, in which they lost a ton of games and fell out the Western Conference playoff race, the Dallas Mavericks appear to be turning things around.
Dirk Nowitzki is back in the starting lineup and while he isn’t quite back to his old form just yet, he’s getting better each week, and could be looking like his old self before the season’s end.
The Mavs have also continued to get great play from shooting guard O.J. Mayo, who is having the best season of his career and has reminded many basketball experts why scouts were so gung-ho about Mayo when he entered the league.
When the Mavs began the ear without Nowitzki, Mayo quickly established himself as the leader. He was putting up 20 points a game and displaying the same explosiveness that he showed in his first two years with the Memphis Grizzlies.
For the first six weeks of the season, Mayo kept the Mavs afloat when many thought they would sink without Nowitzki. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last. The team eventually went on a losing skid and fell all the way back to 12th in the Western Conference. The difficulty of integrating Nowitzki back into the lineup, especially when he wasn’t totally himself yet, didn’t help either and the team continued to fall.
Now, however, with Mayo and Nowitzki playing together, the team is back on track and the two have no problem sharing the ball. In Wednesday night’s win over the Houston Rockets, both played a significant role in guiding the team to victory and they appear to be a better pairing than we might have initially thought.
Unfortunately, Nowitzki is getting old and while he is certainly still a very good player, it’s looking more and more like his days as a top-15 player are behind him. This begs the question: Can O.J. Mayo be the piece that the Mavericks build around?
Those who followed him in Memphis may be skeptical about this. While he played well there, the team didn’t really take off until he accepted a sixth-man role and Tony Allen took his position in the starting lineup. With the Grizzlies, Mayo looked like a complimentary piece, not someone you base your whole team around.
This year, however, Mayo has looked like a completely different player; someone who is not afraid to be a first option and can rack up enough points to keep his team in a tight game. Just when it looked like there was no way Mayo would become the star we thought he could be, he finally started delivering on his immense potential.
So why did the Mavs flounder so badly then? Because Mayo didn’t have enough of a supporting cast, especially when Nowitzki was out of the lineup.
Sure, Shawn Marion is still decent and Chris Kaman has his moments, but this team just doesn’t have enough to be a legitimate contender. They have a great piece in Mayo, but if they want him to be their future, they need to get at least one all-star level player.
There’s been much talk about the possibility of the Mavs acquiring Dwight Howard, either via trade or through free agency. If it’s the former, of course, there’s the possibility that Mayo would be sent to the Lakers in the deal.
I hope that’s not the case, because Mayo has too much talent to be rotting on the bench behind Kobe Bryant, waiting for whatever minutes he can get. If the Mavs can find a way to have Howard and Mayo both on the team, I would recommend going for it, even if it means sending Nowitzki to Los Angeles.
The team needs to find a way to compete now and Mayo would likely help them more than Nowitzki would, especially since we don’t know how many years he has left.
Mayo’s excellent play this season has made it clear that he is one of the premiere shooting guards in the NBA. In the right situation, he can definitely lead a team to the playoffs. Whether the Mavs want to be that team is up to them.
If you teamed O.J. Mayo up with Dwight Howard, or any other elite player who might become available, the Dallas Mavericks would likely become a force to contend with.
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