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January 19, 2018

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O.J. Mayo working on switch to point guard at NBA Summer League

Third-year Grizzlies player brings event star power usually reserved for rookies


Justin M. Bowen

O.J. Mayo brings the ball up the court in an NBA Summer League game against the Atlanta Hawks Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Mayo, who is working on his switch to point guard, guided Memphis to a 89-85 win.

O.J. Mayo spent only one year in college and it's questionable if any of his freshmen professors at USC were as tough of graders as he is.

After leading the Memphis Grizzlies to an 89-85 victory against the Atlanta Hawks in their NBA Summer League opener with a team-high 20 points, a reporter asked Mayo to grade his performance. He flunked himself.

"I can play a lot better," he said.

Mayo went 8-for-14 from the floor and made what turned out to be the game-winning basket on a fast break. It appeared Mayo could score at will.

But that's not why the third-year guard is in Las Vegas this summer. Mayo, who averaged 17 points and 38 minutes last season, volunteered to play for Memphis' summer-league team to speed up his transition from shooting guard to point guard.

Therefore, Mayo considered his eight turnovers a more important statistic than anything else.

"I need to work on timing and the pace of the game," Mayo said. "I need to know when to slow it down and speed it up."

Typically, a player of Mayo's caliber wouldn't spend these two weeks in Las Vegas. The summer-league roster usually is limited to a team's rookies, young role players and free-agent hopefuls.

But Memphis wants Mayo to play more point guard next year so it can exploit favorable match-ups against opposing teams. Mayo wants to learn the position as fast as possible to help his team.

"It's a credit to him to come out and work on his game," Memphis summer league coach David Joerger said. "He certainly doesn't need to play. He knows he's got some things to work on."

Mayo's presence worked to the benefit of Grizzlies draft pick Greivis Vasquez, a point guard from Maryland.

Vasquez scored two points with four assists, and Joerger said Vasquez and Mayo used each other as "security blankets" when they were on the floor together. Vasquez said he planned on using Mayo as a great mentor as it got closer to the NBA season.

But the relationship can work both ways. Vasquez is a lifelong point guard, so perhaps Mayo can learn something from him as well.

"We are going to grow together," Vasquez said. "We are going to play together at some points, and this is just Summer League where we're trying to figure some things out."

The Grizzlies top draft choice, Kansas' Xavier Henry, who they selected 13th overall, will not play in Summer League because of a contract dispute.

Memphis' ultimate plan is to have three solid point-guard options on next year's roster with Mayo, Vasquez and Mike Conley.

"(Vasquez) is the type of player I am," Mayo said. "Sometimes, the perception is arrogant or cocky but it's just a chip on the shoulder. It's a guy who wants to compete and win, and I know where he's coming from."

Mayo's original plan was to play in only the Grizzlies' first two Summer League games. But after Monday's game, Mayo was so frustrated he said he felt like he needed to play in all five contests.

That choice ultimately will be up to Joerger, who has plenty of advice for Mayo on his switch to point guard.

"Don't be a point guard," Joerger said. "Be O.J. who's playing point guard. When he did that tonight, he loosened up."

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