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Mayo returns to Memphis an unchanged man

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Is O.J. a different player today or just free to be the same player he's always been?

USA TODAY Sports

Some people may be surprised by what O.J. Mayo is doing this season as a Maverick. For those of us who've been watching basketball for longer than two years, it's not surprising at all.

Mayo returns to The Grindhouse for the first time ever as a member of the road team. He's having career highs all across the board, taking full advantage of Rick Carlisle's green light and Dirk Nowitzki's knee plight. 20.6 ppg 4.0 rpg 3.7 apg...all unprecedented numbers for 'Juice'. He's also shooting 48% from the field and 52% from three, both career highs.

As great as these numbers are, they do remind me of his first two years in the league. That was, before the team had an identity (aka Z-Bo & Marc). It makes you wonder if there's anything physically different about O.J. this season. Did he dramatically improve his shot or his handle last summer? I don't think so.

I think it's all about freedom.

Since O.J. was a middle-schooler, he's been showcased on the basketball court. It's been Mayo's World since he put on his first high-tops. The past two years he took one for the team (financially) by doing what Lionel Hollins needed....and coach needed a back-up lead guard. Jerryd Bayless is filling that role now in Memphis, not nearly the talent that Mayo is. But it's a better fit, personally. Bench players have to be comfortable in their roles and not want to do more than the team needs them to do. JB doesn't have visions of stealing anyone's starting spot, and that makes for a healthy NBA locker room.

O.J. Mayo, however, has always had star potential. After being brainwashed to play PG last year, he's being allowed to soar in Dallas. He's not worried about making mistakes and hurting the team...without Dirk, he IS the team.

In the Miami game on Thursday, Mayo raised up from 25 feet as the rest of the Mavs were just getting into their offensive set. It was the kind of shot that would've had O.J. sitting next to Lionel in a heartbeat last year. That particular shot ended up missing everything and landing out of bounds. Mayo finished the night shooting 3/14.

Grizzlies fans hope for more of the same on Friday night. Seeing that Tony Allen has guarded O.J. thousands of times in practice over the years, I like their chances.