Both are combo guards that were once lauded as a franchise's problem solver in the backcourt, able to dish and lead an offense as well as score at will. Both, eh, kind of put an end to that scouting hope a year or two into their careers. Sound shooters, but not knockout-hot from behind the arc. Potential penetrators, but you'd rarely see them enter the lane. Good scorers, but not at the most efficient clip — coincidentally, both players average a so-so 15.3 points on 13.1 shots per game in their careers.
Out of nowhere, though, the Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford and Dallas Mavericks' O.J. Mayo are tearing up the NBA in its first week and a half. Both are free-agent acquisitions, stopgaps working on modest deals; and yet both are integral in the Clippers' 4-2 and Dallas' 4-1 starts to the season. What clicked?
The naked eye tells us that both are playing a more aggressive style of ball, with Crawford's flourishes toward the rim not limited to the nutmeg he gave the San Antonio Spurs late in Wednesday night's win, and Mayo appearing to attack quicker off of pin downs and ball movement as he works his way through Rick Carlisle's ever-shifting offense. Whatever the influence, the production is more pleasing to the eye than Mayo and Crawford's past contributions.
A closer look at the stats will reveal that, nah, they're just making way more 3-pointers.
A whopping 6.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes from Mayo this year, and a ridiculous 7.9 per 36 from Crawford, made all the more silly by the fact that Crawford has hit for 42 percent of his makes (after a career of lounging around the league average at 35 percent), and Mayo has going HAM from outside to the tune of 63.6 percent from long range. Their overall shot attempts, at least in comparison to the career stats per-minute, aren't up that much in this turnaround season.
Can it be a turnaround "season," though? That's going to be a tough sell.
The only real uptick in play from both Crawford and Mayo is increase in 3-point attempts and makes. Neither has re-found that passing touch that made them potential point guard helpers out of college, and no other aspect of the player's production has really shot up during this smallish sample. That's not a criticism, both were brought in to be gunners for hire and both are flourishing in that role, but to expect 63.6 percent or even 42 percent from outside to continue is a stretch.
Which means the averages — 21.8 points per game for Crawford, 21.6 points per game from Mayo — probably won't sustain. O.J. has done this before, getting off to a white-hot start from outside during his rookie season in 2008-09, play that stands out not only for his good-for-any-season percentage but also the early season novelty. Usually teams don't hit for their typical averages until they've had a few weeks or even months to work into shape, and the November and December months work as the dregs of the offensive year.
Of course, that expected drop-off won't matter much to the Clippers and Mavs. They'd love it if the lights-out shooting continued, but they'll be well equipped to handle the return to the mean as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin work their way out of assorted injuries, and Dirk Nowitzki returns to Dallas following knee surgery.
It's a pleasant turnaround, though. Crawford looks as spry as ever, somehow, at age 32 and playing on his sixth NBA team. Mayo could never build on the promise of that rookie season in Memphis, and while it wasn't coach Lionel Hollins' fault he was only shooting for the league-average from outside all these years, clearly the new setting has done wonders for his temperament; and the same goes for his backcourt partner in point guard Darren Collison.
So it probably won't hold up. So what? In a league lacking in scoring shooting guards, we'll take whatever we can get.