Progress for Xavier and What That Means for OJ

This is my first story for Straight Outta Vancouver, so, naturally, I'm going to piss you all off by advocating trading OJ. Please hold onto your pitchforks and hear me out.

              One of sportswriters' favorite techniques when writing about an athlete is the analogy, particularly to compare to another athlete or a cultural figure. Personally, I try to avoid this whenever possibly, because I think that it encourages lazy writing, but today I'll break my own code when I discuss OJ Mayo, because I can't think of a more appropriate comparison for OJ Mayo than the rapper T.I.

              I couldn't believe the news when I heard about our draft day trade for him. I should have been sad; we had just traded my favorite Grizzly of all-time (Mike Miller) and had to take back Antoine freaking Walker and Marko Jaric, but instead I was ecstatic. OJ had cojones. Dude was going to be our superstar. His rookie season was not quite as brilliant as I had expected, but it didn't deter me from this line of thinking either. In particular, I remember driving to Memphis to watch what ended up being a blowout loss to the Spurs. Although OJ was passive for most of the game, at one point he split two defenders and rocketed to the hoop for a massive dunk. My dad turned to me and said, "You know, he just makes it look so easy." I couldn't help but agree with him. As you know, that year he finished second to Derrick Rose in ROY votes and he looked like he was on his way to superstardom.

               In that same year, T.I.'s album Paper Trail debuted. Although he had been an established rapper prior to this album, I hadn't really paid much attention to him. Sure, I liked his verse on "My Love," but not enough to buy any of his albums. Yet, when I heard "Live My Life" on the radio, it changed my attitude. I bought the album and loved it. Almost overnight, T.I. had become my favorite rapper. T.I. was so smooth, and like OJ in 2009, it all seemed effortless for him.

                Somewhere along the way, they both lost their way. I don't need to detail O.J.'s struggles this past season, I know you're aware of them already. Doing so, is the equivalent of rubbing a dog's face in its own urine. T.I.'s also had his own share of problems. He recently released a new album, No Mercy, which one of the astute reviewers on Amazon noted was essentially a retread of Paper Trail. While it was refreshing to hear in 2008, now it's just stale. Listening to "Castle Walls" only makes me think that I should like the song more than I actually do. Throughout the album, he apologizes to his fans for not being a better role model, but he made the same excuses on his previous album and they no longer sound heartfelt. I still have hope for T.I. (listen to his verse in this song and tell me that he can't bounce back), but he has lost my trust.

               OJ's strong postseason performance made many of us fall in love with him all over again, albeit as a Jason Terry-type player rather than a Kobe Bryant. In spite of this, it's my firm belief that we need to trade OJ. Rudy will be back this season, and, in case you forgot, he's pretty good. OJ's role in the offense is going to be reduced again, but the good news is that a lot of teams want him. The Grizzlies can probably get a better offer than last year's offer from the Pacers. Besides, we have Xavier Henry and I think he can replace OJ's production.

              I know that that last statement sounds crazy, considering how rough last season was for Xavier. He shot only 40% from the field and 11.8% from three for an effective field goal percentage of .413 (yikes!). He had a mere 7 PER, his Offensive Rating was only 97, his Defensive rating was a team-worst 111, it goes on... Basically, by any measure he had a bad season. However, let's not forget why we drafted him in the first place. In college he was a stellar 3-point shooter (.418). Sometimes even the best shooters have to go through an adjustment period. I think X can regain his stroke. Further, I think he can improve in other areas as well. One is defense; in spite of what the advanced stats tell you, know this: he is already better than OJ Mayo. Part of this is because his physically bigger than Mayo and can't be pushed around by bigger 2's. Xavier also seems to be more committed to defense. Offensively, he'll never be as good as Mayo. His ballhandling is nowhere near as good as OJ's and his first step is merely adequate. He's never been known for shooting off the dribble. Yet, the tools are all there for him to develop into a solid contributor. This offseason, I'd like to see Xavier find his stroke, continue to work on defense, as well as his off-the-ball movement. With his catch-and-shoot ability, I really think Xavier would excel in coming off screens ala Kyle Korver. Most importantly, if he develops these skills, it makes OJ expendable. I like OJ as much as anyone, but he's a luxury we can't afford to keep. 

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