OJ the Juiceman had his best game as a Maverick on Saturday, scoring 30 points on 10-17 shooting, including going 7-10 from beyond the arc. Instead of trying to create his own shot off the dribble, Mayo spent most of the game spotting up, which is really the strength of his game. He's an excellent shooter, and if you can create open looks for him, he's very dangerous -- ala Jason Terry. But if he has to pound the ball into the ground with the shot clock winding down, he's not going to be nearly as effective.
"Juice" is best playing off a primary scorer, which is why he'll benefit greatly from playing with Dirk. On Saturday, he was playing off Darren Collison, who had another excellent outing, with 18 points and 10 assists on 8-12 shooting. Collison completely dominated the flow of the game. But, before we get too excited about his fast start, it's important to remember who he has been matching up with in these first three games -- Steve Nash, Mo Williams and Kemba Walker. A murderer's row of PG's, that is not.
Walker, meanwhile, came back to Earth after scoring 30 points in the Bobcats win over the Pacers on Friday. I still remember his breakout performance in college: he was a McDonald's All-American who had hardly played his freshman year when Jim Calhoun rolled him off the bench in their Elite Eight game against Missouri. Walker poured in 23 points and 5 assists in 25 minutes, using a breathtaking combination of quickness and skill to wreck the Tigers, a popular Cinderella pick, in the open court. That's probably the role he's best suited for in the NBA: at 6'0 185, he's just too small to be efficient playing 35+ minutes a night as a starter. What's weird is how similar he is to the lottery PG he replaced: former Texas PG DJ Augustin. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice ...
Dallas, especially in comparison to recent years, has a lot of players who can finish open shots. As an example, there aren't many Brendan Haywood's in the Mavs rotation this year. Haywood, whose still receiving a massive contract from Dallas, decided to prove a point against his former team, a rather hilarious spectacle on several different levels. He was taking running hook shots, driving the ball at the rim and really just doing a whole bunch of things out of his comfort range offensively, which is essentially anything beyond shooting lay-ups in an empty gym. 14 points on 7-13 shooting from Haywood is the definition of found money, look no further than his 2-8 mark from the free-throw line for proof.
That speaks to a broader point about the game: it's really hard to evaluate the Mavs defense because the Bobcats are really bad at offense. It's hard for them to generate good looks at the basket: they don't have any guys who can consistently get to the rim off the dribble or score with their back to the basket. Ramon Sessions (22 points on 8-13 shooting) kept them in the game and Ben Gordon is capable of exploding at any time, but there aren't many offensive threats in their starting lineup. If Charlotte isn't playing their ass off on defense, which they weren't on Saturday, they aren't going to be many competitive in many games.
One of the Bobcats starters who took it upon himself to take on a bigger role offensively was Byron Mullens. There aren't many guys in the NBA with a basketball IQ as low as Mullens, who doesn't seem to have any idea as to what's going on or what the proper role for him on a team would be. He apparently has a permanent green light, which gives him license to take running floaters, step-back three pointers and any other shot (that he does not have in his skill-set) that he decides he'd like to try. On Saturday, he shot 7-18 and scored 16 points, the type of stat-line I expect he'll post a lot this season. That doesn't mean he can't be a useful player: he'd be very effective as a pick-and-pop man or a finisher, but he's grossly miscast as a guy getting his own shot.
In contrast, there weren't many Mavs players forcing the action on Saturday. Chris Kaman shot 8-9, Vince Carter shot 7-12 and Jae Crowder shot 4-5: that type of efficiency is a pretty good indication that all three were getting open shots within the flow of the offense. Kaman is a good example of a guy who has been miscast his entire career: there's no way a 7'0 270 center with his skill-set should shoot 45% from the floor, like he did in New Orleans last year. They should use him more like Brandan Wright then expect him to be a guy you throw the ball into the low post 10x a game.
Dominique Jones, on the other hand, has the opposite problem of a guy like Kaman. He's only really valuable with the ball in his hands, but he's not talented enough for a coach to allow him to dominate the ball like he did at South Florida. It's hard for a guy like that to play with the requisite amount of confidence if he's not consistently given chances to make mistakes. Beaubois has the same problem; the difference is I think Roddy B has the talent to make it worthwhile to feed the ball, Jones not as much. He did a great job distributing the ball on Saturday, dishing out 6 assists in 16 minutes, and if he's going to stick in the NBA, it will be as a back-up PG. The problem, then, becomes his lack of an outside jumper, which teams will force him to take if he's being game-planned against.
If I'm a Charlotte fan, the most troubling performance, to me, is Bismack Biyombo's. For a guy who gives you nothing offensively, he sure was awful at defense on Saturday. He's got the body to be a high-level defensive big man, but he doesn't have the basketball IQ, at least right now. He's reacting instead of anticipating, and as long as he does that, he's always going to be a step behind. That's something that might develop with time, but then again, it's something that might not. Right now, when he's on the court, he's a tremendous liability and that's before getting into his offense, which is laughably bad.
On the other hand, I was very impressed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, their No. 2 overall pick. Now that is a foundation guy. He's very fast for 6'7 230 and he's got very long arms, which translates into a player who fills a stat sheet: active and always around the ball. Check his line from Saturday: 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 2 steals. That part of his game resembles Dwyane Wade's: they both have 6'11+ wingspans, which allows them to play a lot bigger than their size. I compared him to Shawn Marion coming out of college and I still think that comparison makes a lot of sense.
The Big Picture:
Dallas wins a game they were supposed to win in a nice "get-well" game against a Charlotte team still years away from being good. The worm may start to turn on Monday, when Collison has what should be a tougher match-up with Portland rookie Damian Lillard, but then again, rookie PG's are notoriously bad at defense. Either way, the Trail Blazers should provide a far more interesting challenge for the Mavs, which hopefully will translate into more fans in the seats. Last year's home opener was against the Heat on Christmas Day, not quite the same feel this year. In the NBA, the fall from the top is a long one.