Oh, Uncle Juice. By the end of O.J. Mayo’s run with Milwaukee, it felt as if he’d corralled a fondness among the Bucks faithful, with particular affinity for his devotion to getting Giannis Antetokounmpo the ball in transition. That’s a solid recipe for winning over Bucks’ fans. When Mayo first inked this contract though, he was meant to be one of the leading scorers on a Bucks team turning the page on the dwindling flames of the Fear the Deer era.
In July 2013, John Hammond essentially re-made his roster, building it around dependable veterans (Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, O.J. Mayo, a super salty Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour) to go with an influx of young talent (Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nate “Naters gonna Nate” Wolters and a recently re-inked Larry Sanders). Out was Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis’ Laverne and Shirley act. Mayo was the veteran centerpiece after five years in the league and never quite living up to his billing as the 3rd overall selection and number one high school player in the country.
After four years in Memphis where he gradually lost minutes and eventually his starting slot, Mayo spent the 2012-13 season in Dallas where he recouped some of his value under Rick Carlisle. Averaging similar per-36 points to his years in Memphis (15.5), he upped his value with a career high 4.5 assists per game to go with a career best 40.7% mark from beyond the arc on 4.3 attempts per game. It was also his best true shooting percentage (55.6%) since his sophomore campaign. Notably, he also played in all 82 games, averaging 35 minutes per contest for them. His fewest games in a season to that point was 66. Suffice to say, Juice seemed, on paper, like the kind of capable scoring guard who could partially replace Monta Ellis. Ironically, Ellis wound up signing where Juice came from, Dallas, for precisely $8 million as well.
Unfortunately, Mayo’s capable shooting numbers obscured what was otherwise a relatively meh player in terms of defensive impact and general effort. In his lone year in Dallas, despite decent figures, there was this flame-up from the testy Carlisle about Mayo’s effort after a game against his former squad, Memphis. Here’s a choice quote:
“Look, he’s not the only guy that stunk tonight,” Carlisle said. “I stunk, too. I’ll readily admit that, and I’ve been admitting it all year. But I’m passionate about not wanting to stink.
“That’s where I have trouble reconciling things.”
So, with Mayo coming to a Milwaukee team under first year head coach Larry Drew, an almost entirely new cast of characters aboard and a young Greek phenom, how would Mayo’s occasionally apathetic personality translate?
Into a lot of Kopp’s it turns out. Mayo showed up that season looking “sluggish.” He had gorged, probably indulging in a bit too much of his namesake. It’s not too often you get a player whose first and last names are actual food and drink, but he certainly steered into that skid as “Fat O.J. Mayo” emerged in 2013-14. Rudy Gay called him out over it. We got this short-lived Twitter account. It was a thing. He suffered an injury that season and played merely 52 games, but all in all, his struggles were yet another encapsulation of that horrid 13-14 season.
Despite being the top-paid player on the team, Mayo posted the worst PER of his career up to that point (11.7), and he had the worst net plus-minus per 100 possessions on the team, -7.9. Yikes. With a higher usage rate than season’s past, he couldn’t justify the increased responsibility on the court. Milwaukee’s offensive performance sputtered with him on the court, going from their 101.3 season average (per NBA.com) down to a measly 95.3. his true shooting dipped to 51.6% and he wasn’t getting to the free throw line as much as year’s past. Mayo started just 23 games that year, despite ostensibly entering the year as the starting shooting guard.
It was a resounding disappointment, but his follow-up season did show a bit of improvement from Mr. Juice. The 2014-15 season was a rebound for the organization overall, as Mayo appeared in 71 games, and while his per-36 averages and shooting splits weren’t markedly different from the prior year (17 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists on 42.2%/35.7%/82.7), he found a more defined role under Jason Kidd. His net plus-minus per 100 possessions leaped up to the merely bad, rather than horrific, at -4.2. The Bucks bench was a key factor for Milwaukee’s success that season, with Juice was a primary initiator among the group. He was...just fine. He was also the team’s second-highest paid player, but played merely the 6th most minutes and was at least 7th in terms of offensive pecking order.
His final year was beset by injuries with the Bucks, and he appeared in just 41 games for them. He averaged 7.8 points per game, shot 32.1% from deep, a horrific 37.1% overall and generally gave the Bucks almost nothing on the offensive end beyond a brief spell of delightfulness through the “Point Juice” experiment. He was merely third on the salary pecking order this year, behind Greg Monroe and Khris Middleton. Also - for anyone who still feels inclined to give Jason Kidd bonus points for Giannis’ development, never forget he basically just spun a wheel several times during his tenure while trying different players at point guard.
After his final year, Mayo was banned from the league for two years due to violation of their anti-drug policy. For me, I’ve felt as if Mayo has remained a sympathetic figure despite his high-priced contract and failure to deliver upon that promise. He was pretty honest about his mistakes speaking in a Sports Illustrated article in 2017:
“I want to go back to what I left [in Milwaukee],” Mayo said, when asked for his dream destination. “I was real close with Jason Kidd. That was the best relationship I had with a coach besides [Dwaine Barnes]. I had great relationships with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Khris Middleton. I was comfortable there. I felt like I let them down, cheated them for two years. They paid me $8 million to be, in my eyes, a subpar player. They invested millions of dollars for me to be on top of my s---, and when you’re not on top of your s---, it shows. I’ll be 30 next summer. If they just give me the chance, I can make it up. I owe them.”
Juice still hasn’t found a way back into the league.
From the Archives
Here’s my favorite bit from Frank Madden’s impression of the impending Mayo signing back in 2013:
In Dallas he re-emerged as a starter with the best basketball of his career before the all-star break (17.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, .463/.413/.856), but tailed off in the season’s second half (10.9 ppg, 4.5 apg, .417/.392/..667). The biggest lowlight came in an April loss to his former club, after which coach Rick Carlisle unloaded on him to reporters about a perceived lack of effort and intensity. Mayo accepted the criticism and Carlisle later offered a bit more color to his tirade, but the episode underscored the good and the bad that comes with Mayo. He’s talented, but leaves you wanting more...
If you think he’s going to derail the Bucks’ from accidentally tanking...probably not. If you think he’s a long term core piece...nope, he’s not that either. Instead, he’s a capable NBA starter, but not someone who will prevent you from looking for better options. And as is usually the case, his price tag and the expectations that come with it will go a long way to determining where this move falls on the “solid” to “stupid” scale.
And here’s a subsequent breakdown after the signing was made official.
Brew Hoop Worst Contract of the Last Decade Ranking
10. Ersan Ilyasova (2012; 5-year, $40M; team option last year)
9. O.J. Mayo (2013; 3-year, $24M)
Did you have O.J. Mayo way higher on this list of worse contracts? Think he shouldn’t have even been on the list? Let us know in the comments below, but in the meantime, let’s keep this thing rolling with the next vote. Who has the next best contract out of this group?
What is the BEST Bucks contract out of this bad bunch?
This poll is closed
2010 John Salmons (5-year, $39M; partially guaranteed last year)
2010 Drew Gooden (5-year, $32M)
2013 Larry Sanders (4-year, $44M)
2015 John Henson (4-year, $44M)
2016 Matthew Dellavedova (4-year, $38.5M)
2016 Mirza Teletovic (3-year, $30M)
2016 Miles Plumlee (4-year, $52M)
2017 Tony Snell (4-year, $44M)
The poll will close at noon, Tuesday, May 12.