Editor's note: Today, the SB Nation NBA blogs are taking a look at each team's offseason free agent moves, and trying to determine whether they were good or bad. This is our take. You can see the rest of the network's posts here.
After a disappointing loss in the 1st round of the NBA playoffs to the Los Angeles Clippers and with the starting 5 returning, the one thing that needed major improvement was the Memphis Grizzlies bench. Looking back at this Summer’s free agency, you have to wonder if management regrets letting shooting guard O.J. Mayo go.
The former 3rd overall pick whom the team traded Kevin Love, Mike Miller, etc. for is finally starting to look the part. In his first season with the Dallas Mavericks, Mayo is averaging 18/3/3 while shooting 43 percent from behind the arc.
He’s doing what most assumed he would do once he entered the league, but what he seldom got a chance to do in Memphis after being 6th man for the past two years in order for Tony Allen to start. No coincidence that once this move was made the Grizzlies fortune began to change.
Instead of leaving a chance of re-signing Mayo, Memphis officially cut ties when they decided to let him be an unrestricted free agent. And the back-up plan? Well the back-up plan was simple. They could have easily gone with the budding "star", but they decided to use several players to make for Mayo’s production.
The numbers don’t support the bench’s depth in the 2011-12 season. According to Hoopsstats.com, the Memphis Grizzlies bench was statistically better, but that had a lot to do with Mayo's overall talent as a player and the absence of Zach Randolph for most of the season forcing Marresse Speights into the starting lineup.
But the production and reliability of that second unit wasn't reliable. That's where overall depth comes into place.
The biggest signing by the Grizz during free agency, and the clear-cut "O.J. Mayo replacement" was Jerryd Bayless. If one would ask if Jerryd is simply better than Mayo then the answer would be no, but when it comes down to fitting within Lionel Hollins offense and filling needs, mainly the back-up point guard position, Bayless’ has shown that he's easily the better option.
Per-48 minutes, Bayless is averaging 10.1 assists per game when playing point guard compared to Mayo's 6.8 last season (via 82games.com). And Bayless has proven to be the better defender at point allowing opposing guards a PER of 15.3 versus Mayo's 18.4.
The rest of the free agent signings were those that brought back frontcourt players in Mo Speights, Darrell Arthur and Hamed Haddadi. Considering what other teams paid for frontcourt production: Boston Celtics in Jeff Green/Brandon Bass, the Phoenix Suns paid in Michael Beasley and the Indiana Pacers in Ian Mahinmi, the Grizzlies have gotten much more value out of their signings. While the numbers don't pop out at you, their presence on the court and ability to spell Marc Gasol and Randolph for long periods of time has been valuable to this team.
Even the acquisition of Wayne Ellington deserves mention. Trading front court depth in Dante Cunningham for outside shooting has worked out fine as Ellington and co. are beginning to find their rhythm in the new year. In fact the biggest difference between the bench in 2012-13 and last season is simple: 3-point shooting. Last year’s bench shot 32% from 3 while this year’s is shooting 40%.
Of course, with Rudy Gay’s name in the rumor mills, you have to wonder how urgent things would become if the team had retained Mayo's services as the team lacks shot creators on the perimeter once Gay is off the floor.
But as far as the overall look of things: addition by subtraction of Mayo has been the driving force to a lot of Memphis' success. If the "Zoo Crew" keeps up their play of late, there won't be any questioning on whether Memphis made the right choice with Mayo, but it's obvious that sometimes just having that "star" isn't a positive.