It’s a question many fans, media members, and likely Mavericks officials themselves have wondered this season.
“Where would Dallas be without O.J. Mayo?”
It’s an easy question to ask, but a hard question to answer. Let’s try anyway.
With Dirk Nowitzki injured, Mayo has been by far the most reliable, steadying influence for this 10-10 Mavericks squad. We can all probably agree that Dallas’ record would be something worse than .500 without Mayo’s prodigious outside shooting this year, but how bad would it be?
With a quarter of the season nearly in the books, Mayo’s 20.9 ppg ranks him as the 4th highest-scoring guard, among qualified players, behind only Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. His 48.2 percent field goal shooting lands him 8th in the among guards and his still-ridiculous shooting from the arc tops the league at 52.3 percent by nearly three percentage points.
But what if he wasn’t around? Instead of top five production at the shooting guard position, what if Dallas was receiving only, say, middle of the road scoring?
Among qualified players, median production at the guard position is between 11.5 – 12.2 points per game. How would Dallas have fared if Mayo’s production was at this level instead of the All Star-caliber he has been producing?
If we replace Mayo’s production with the median at his position, the results are surprising. Obviously this is an imperfect measure, as it ignores game flow, situation etc, but it is useful for illustrating just how valuable Mayo has been to this team.
Nonetheless, replacing Mayo’s point totals in every game with the league average results in a change in outcome of at least five of Dallas’ wins so far this season.
Five. Half of the team's wins. Without Mayo, the Mavericks are looking at a best-case scenario of 5-15. (The Dec 1 tilt with Detroit projects as a tie if you replace Mayo’s 27 points with 12, as Dallas won 92-77) If you extrapolate that impact out over a full season, we are talking about a difference of 20 games.
Beyond simple wins and losses, lets look deeper: losing Mayo’s elite-level production turns many of the team’s current 10 losses into blowouts. Further, Dallas has lost twice in overtime this season, and they likely wouldn’t have survived past regulation without Mayo’s average of 24.5 points in both of those contests.
Further, if Mayo had been a merely average player, Dallas would have been in two more games decided by five points or less, a situation in which Dallas is 3-3 this year.
Without Mayo, the narrative around this team would be drastically different. Instead of merely talking about a squad holding on fairly well without its superstar, we might be uttering a word not associated with Dallas in over a decade: lottery-bound.
Such production almost guarantees Mayo a raise on his $4 million salary this season (he has a player option for next year and will likely opt out).
Mayo’s production not only has altered Dallas’ trajectory this season, but it is also is turning around his own career. Coming into this season, Mayo was on the way to becoming a bust, after being drafted third overall in 2008.
Now, the story isn’t one of disappointment, but instead, if Mayo keeps this up, we should be having a different conversation.
No longer should we wonder whether Mayo is a worthy “Robin” to Dirk’s “Batman.” With Dirk’s continued absence, we can wonder if Mayo has played his way into usurping Nowitzki’s All Star spot.