Dictionary.com defines the term “polarizing” as “something that divides into two sharply opposing factions, political groups”. In the case of Memphis Grizzlies fandom, there are no two players more polarizing than O.J. Mayo and Dillon Brooks. Grizzlies fans have endured what rapper Wale would call a “LoveHate Thing” with the two shooting guards in which they love them, they hate them and they love them again. Since the 2008 departure of shooting guard Mike Miller, the Memphis Grizzlies have been in search for consistent scoring from that position. The Grizzlies believed they had upgraded at the position through the 2008 Draft in which they were able to acquire the high scoring, plus defender, and All-Pac-10 guard O.J. Mayo in a mega-trade that sent Mayo along with veterans Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker, & Greg Buckner to Memphis as the Grizzlies sent 5th overall pick Kevin Love, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, and the previously mentioned Miller to Minnesota. O.J. Mayo arrived in an ideal situation as he joined a less than stellar Grizzlies team that immediately injected him into the starting lineup and making him a focal point of the offense that saw him only follow Rudy Gay in Field Goal Attempts. The O.J. Mayo experience would be brief as his role diminished as the Grit and Grind era was ushered in and his style of play no longer fit the Grizzlies plans as Mayo would leave in free agency after 4 seasons in Memphis.
Post Grit & Grind and after years of missing on guards in the NBA Draft, Memphis found themselves in a familiar position without the draft capital of 2008, so they went for value trading a future 2nd round pick to Houston for Pac-12 Player of the Year and 40% three point shooter Dillon Brooks as they looked to ease the scoring troubles that continued to haunt the position. In three seasons with Memphis, Brooks has played a number of different roles that have seen him as the team’s best perimeter defender and sole perimeter shot creator at best and a player out of his comfort zone on offense hindering his defense when his shot stops falling at worse. Unlike Mayo, Brooks has made it past his rookie deal and as of this writing continues into season four of his burgeoning Grizzlies career.
The question is which streaky Grizzlies guard had the better Grizzlies career?
Tale of the Tape
O.J. Mayo (4 seasons): 15.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.1 STL, 43 FG%, 37.5 3PT%, 2.1 TOPG, 14.1 PER
Dillon Brooks (3 seasons): 12.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.8 STL, 42 FG%, 36 3PT %, 1.5 TOPG, 10.3 PER
O.J. Mayo made his NBA debut alongside fellow rookie Marc Gasol as a part of Marc Iavaroni’s opening night starting lineup as the Memphis Grizzlies opened against Tracy McGrady and the Houston Rockets in October 2008. O.J. Mayo would struggle in his first game scoring 10 points on 5-20 shooting, including an 0 for 7 effort from three point range in an opening night loss to the Rockets. The former All-PAC-10 defender would make an impact on defense adding two steals and 5 rebounds to his stat line.
Dillon Brooks burst onto the scene in his NBA debut coming off the bench against the New Orleans Pelicans in what would be a record setting debut in October 2017. In 29 minutes of action, Dillon Brooks would establish a new record for most points for a Canadian in their NBA debut scoring 19 points on 53% shooting finishing second on the team behind Mike Conley’s 27 points for the night. This game would be a top 5 game of his rookie campaign and an example of Dillon Brooks at his best, instead of hunting for threes, (he went 0-2 on the night) Brooks did his damage by finding a home in the mid-range and attacking the basket while also contributing 4 steals and 2 blocks on the defensive end of the floor without getting in foul trouble.
This was Brooks at his best, and as Grizz Next Gen continues to grow, it may be the role that suits him best in the future.
Winner: Dillon Brooks
Best Game (per John Hollinger’s Game Score):
During his time in Memphis, O.J. Mayo briefly adapted the nickname “The Juiceman” not after the notorious Hall of Fame running back but instead after an emerging rapper coincidentally named “OJ da Juiceman” who just so happened to have a parallel career path as his basketball counterpart as he also arrived on the scene in 2008. I mention this very unique moment in music and sports history because the cadence of the song “Make the Trap say Aye,” OJ Da Juiceman’s biggest hit, is the only way to properly describe O.J. Mayo’s best game as a Grizzly. On November 1, 2009, Game 3 of his sophomore season, O.J. Mayo was booming, dunking and serving major buckets as he dropped 40 points on the Denver Nuggets on 17-25 shooting going 4-8 from three point range to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal in 38 minutes of action. In this high scoring affair, Mayo showed flashes of the prolific scorer many believed he could be at the NBA level showcasing his ability to score efficiently at all three levels. This offensive explosion would be OJ Mayo’s career high and serve as the best game of his NBA career netting him a 34.2 game score.
Despite a game that also saw Marc Gasol score 20 points, it would not be enough to secure a Grizzlies win as the Grizzlies would fall 133-123 behind 42 points from Carmelo Anthony and a 22 point 12 assist effort from Chauncey Billups.
Thus far in his career, Dillon Brooks has been in the position where, much like college, he is the best shot creator on the floor which has led to a mixed bag of results on the NBA level as he continues to evolve as a 3 & D player for the Memphis Grizzlies. Dillon Brooks’ best game may have come in a game in which he was actually the best player on the entire team amidst the 2018 season from hell for the Memphis Grizzlies.
On April 11, 2018, the Memphis Grizzlies started Kobi Simmons, Ben McLemore, Ivan Rabb and Deyonta Davis alongside Brooks against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finale of a disastrous season, which equated to a game where the offensive game plan was to let DB cook — and cook DB did. Dillon Brooks scored 36 points on 14-22 shooting, 3-7 from three point range, adding 7 rebounds and 2 steals in 33 minutes of action in the season-ending loss. Brooks was as confident as ever finishing his rookie season on a streak of 4 games in a row of 15+ points capping it off with a performance that remains his career high through three seasons.
Winner: O.J. Mayo
Worst Game... (per John Hollinger’s Game Score):
Streaky shooters can be a gift and a curse. When they are hitting their shots everything is great and the basket seems massive but when it’s bad, it can get REALLY bad and every game day you pray the drought is over. Who had it worse between Mayo and Brooks?
Washington, oh Washington. The Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies have had some heated matchups over the years but in the case of O.J. Mayo and Dillon Brooks The Verizon/Capitol One Center has yielded games they wish they could forget.
November 19, 2010 is a date that O.J. Mayo hopes to forget because it may be the true date that started the downward trajectory of his career in Memphis. On the surface, it seems like another tightly contested road loss for the Grizzlies as they would lose 89-86 to the Wizards, but there was a ton of fallout from this game. This game is the worst of Mayo’s career in Memphis shooting 1-11 from the field, his only made shot being one of his four three point attempts. He would finish the game with a -12 +/-, the lowest of everyone in the starting lineup, and contributed nothing positive defensively while racking up four fouls.
This seems like a bad night at the office, but the spiral from this game continues as this would be his last game as a consistent member of Lionel Hollins’ starting lineup. He was replaced by Xavier Henry the next game before the role ultimately went to Tony Allen. The consistency in O.J. Mayo’s production would decline from this point on as he never grew comfortable in the 6th man role that had fallen upon him. While many blame a game of Boo-Ray on a team flight for Mayo’s demise in Memphis, it can all be traced back to this poor performance before the failure to adapt to the emerging Grit & Grind mentality that Hollins would instill in his teams.
Staying in Washington, Dillon Brooks’ worst game of his professional career came this season in the Grizzlies February 9th win over the Wizards. In 30 minutes of action, Brooks shot 4-17 while going 0 for 8 from three to go along with 5 fouls and three turnovers. Not for lack of effort, but this is Dillon Brooks at his worst when he settles for threes and hunts for his shot instead of finding other ways to contribute when the shot is falling. Thankfully, his trip to DC did not result in the fallout of Mayo’s 2010 trip as he continued to give a number of valued performances for the Grizzlies in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.
Winner (?): OJ Mayo
O.J. Mayo and Dillon Brooks are two of the better shooters in franchise history. Their reception from fans comes down to their style of play as volume shooters who do a lot of their work in isolation which can yield varying results. Mayo and Brooks had parallel paths as they began their careers as a Grizzly. Mayo came to the Grizzlies after a stellar freshman season at USC as a great two way player that could score on three levels and was the focal point of their offense as he racked up All-PAC-10 honors. Brooks shined in an Oregon Ducks offense winning Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2017 for his efforts, including a show stealing performance in the NCAA Tournament that helped guide Dana Altman and the Ducks to the Final Four.
Mayo and Brooks both arrived in Memphis on Draft Night via trades. Then their paths begin to steer in different directions.
O.J. Mayo lived up to the hype in his rookie season averaging 18.5 PPG and earning 2009 NBA All-Rookie First Team honors in a season in which he played for three different head coaches. Sadly, this would be the pinnacle of OJ Mayo’s career in Memphis. He would continue to be a focal point of the offense in his second year but as the offense shifted, Zach Randolph became a larger focus of the offense as Lionel Hollins adapted an inside-out approach offensively. The former All-PAC-10 defender struggled defensively in the starting lineup and as his efficiency started to waiver Mayo would be passed by in the starting lineup by Xavier Henry and Tony Allen as the Grit and Grind era slowly came together around him. The Grizzlies culture began to zig where Mayo zagged.
Mayo’s defense improved when he was relegated to the bench but he was never the scorer he was the first two seasons in Memphis as he failed to adapt to the 6th man role that had been thrust upon him. A scorer like the Mayo that Grizzlies fans witnessed in Mayo’s rookie and sophomore seasons with the improved defense he played as a bench player would have been welcomed in the Grit and Grind era with a team that struggled to score on the perimeter. Mayo still ranks 5th in franchise history in three pointers made, 9th in points and steals so to say Mayo didn’t make an impact would be untruthful but it is also true that his career seemed like a career unfulfilled as his career with Memphis ended after four seasons as Mayo left for Dallas in free agency.
Dillon Brooks is still in the early stages of his Grizzlies career and when the 2021 season begins he will enter his fourth season in Memphis, the same number of seasons Mayo played in Memphis. Brooks has shown a degree of versatility and adaptability in his short time in Memphis that his volume shooting predecessor never did. Brooks started in a 6th man role his rookie season and thrived in the role to the point that he was eventually moved to the starting lineup as a rookie.
Although his sophomore season was cut short due to injury, he returned in his third season an improved player. The argument could be made that Dillon Brooks is better served in that 6th man role but in his time as a starter Brooks has been the Grizzlies best shot creator on the wing while also being the Grizzlies best perimeter defender often taking on the assignment of the opposing team’s best player. While Dillon Brooks has rarely been the focal point of the Grizzlies offense like Mayo, he is already 8th in three pointers in franchise history and making them at a similar rate to Mayo.
There is still room for Brooks to improve his game entering his fourth season as far as shot selection but as he and the team around him improve I see Dillon Brooks to continue being a contributor to the franchise which will see him surpass Mayo in rankings and impact if he hasn’t already.
This week’s drink of choice is Canada Dry instead of Orange Juice.
Winner: Dillon Brooks
Who do you think had the better Grizzlies career? What are your favorite memories of OJ Mayo & Dillon Brooks? Who do you want in the next #GrizzVerzuz matchup?