Imagine you’ve been the best basketball player on your team since probably the fifth grade. You’re selected third overall in the NBA draft and expected to be a center piece of a team. Then you get benched, for reasons that are partly you’re fault (getting in a fist fight with a teammate is never a good idea) and some reasons that have little do with you as much as the rest of the make up of your team. Since you’re in a situation you’re not familiar with, you probably aren’t going to react well to it. What happens after that is what will determine your fate in the league.
I just gave the super short version of OJ Mayo’s career so far. Recently, Ben Bolch with the LA Times posted a story about how O.J. Mayo is adjusting to his sixth man role. Mayo said it didn’t sit well with him when head coach Lionel Hollins benched him mid way through last season, but the transition has been made easier know what his situation was going in to this season.
“It made the transition a lot easier going from last year to this year, understanding that that was what was needed for this team,” Mayo said. “Coming off the bench, it just makes our team a lot stronger, depth-wise.”
Mayo’s right, he does give them a scoring punch off the bench that’s much needed for any team, much less one hoping to contend for an NBA title.
The version of the sixth man role was made famous by former Pistons (and one time Spur) Vinny Johnson. “The Microwave’s” instant offense role was then resurrected first by San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, then guys like Leandro Barbosa and Jason Eugene Terry. If Mayo became more consistent, he could win sixth man of the year easily.
Fans also need to remember that the best five players on a team shouldn’t automatically be starting. The most recent example of this is Ricky Rubio. The rookie guard has had a really good rookie season so far and has been really exciting to watch. He’s better than starter Luke Ridnour, but that doesn’t automatically mean you start him. When coming off the bench, Ginobili was always better than the guy starting ahead of him, but he provided such a great change of pace for the game when he entered. Rubio (along with fellow rookie Derrick Williams) does the same thing for Minnesota. It’s not about who starts a game, it’s about who finishes. Fans of Rubio and OJ Mayo should take comfort in the fact that both players seem to be focusing on gaining enough trust in their coaches to finish games instead of worrying about starting them.