When the Grizzlies beat the Miami Heat, rookie Xavier Henry was in the starting lineup because O.J. Mayo showed up late to shoot-around. Turns out that a win against the Superteam is enough to change even a notoriously stubborn coach's lineup.
The next night, without much fanfare, Xavier Henry was still starting, while O.J. Mayo was the first man off the bench.
Coach Lionel Hollins had this to say:
Hollins said his decision Wednesday to take guard O.J. Mayo out of the starting lineup is designed to give the team's struggling bench scoring punch. Rookie Xavier Henry will start at shooting guard for the foreseeable future, although Hollins insisted the change isn't permanent.
"It's difficult when you make these kinds of decisions because everybody reads more into it than they should," Hollins said. "I had a long talk with O.J. He's fine and he'll do well."
Obviously O.J. wasn't thrilled, but he came off as diplomatic:
"I just want it to be a winning decision," Mayo said. "I don't think anybody would be happy. I'm uncomfortable. But I'm a basketball player. I'm a professional. If it's what's best for the team, honestly, I'm definitely all for it. The team and winning are the priorities. I can put my feelings aside for what's best for the team."
Readers of the site know that, especially during pre-draft coverage this summer, I've often commented that O.J. Mayo might be best served as a bench player, in the mold of perennial Sixth Man of the Year contenders like Ben Gordon and Jason Terry.
With two wins under our belt with O.J. coming off the bench, I'm ready to fully back Coach Lionel Hollins's move now. Get over the jump for why.
Hollins's point is that Mayo is going to bring some extra firepower to a bench that includes the mostly clueless, occasional defensive-stopper Hasheem Thabeet; the occasionally clueless, mostly defensive-stopper Tony Allen; Darrell Arthur, who is well-rounded but far from elite; Sam Young, the only scorer, but with a disastrous basketball IQ; and Greivis Vasquez, who can distribute and score a little, but is just a rookie.
Coach is probably right in this regard. O.J. won't get as many easy jump-shots with the second team, which will torpedo his decent career FG%, but he's probably best used to his full capacity as an isolation scorer. With Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph in the starting lineup, and especially with Mike Conley handling the ball more, Mayo isn't getting those kind of looks this season -- hence his career low performance.
Don't be surprised if Sam Young, and Arthur to a lesser extent, starts putting up better looking numbers with Mayo around him too. Both can demand help-defense and if either figures out how to distribute, they'll take some pressure off the other.
Most important to me, though, isn't what O.J. does for the bench, but what Xavier Henry does for the starting lineup. Memphis is 21st in the league in offensive efficiency this year, largely because of injuries, but also because Mayo is shooting an anemic, career low 38% from the field.
Taking the ball out of Mayo's hands and into the hands of Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol (who's criminally underused this year) will potentially give the starters the same offensive boost. Xavier Henry isn't the same scorer O.J. is yet, but he's still good enough to pressure the D to stay on him. In other words, he's just as good of a low-usage decoy, which is what this lineup really needs.
Defensively, it's hard to say that X could make the starters worse. There's still no interior defense and Henry will have his rookie brain-farts, but X literally can't be a worse stopper than O.J., who routinely puts up league-worst advanced defensive statistics. That keeps me confident that the Grizz could keep up their 13th in the league defensive efficiency.
For the bench, for the offense, for the defense, this is the right move by Lionel Hollins, who's continuing to prove he's one of the few tough guys in the franchise and is earning my trust daily.