Mayo or Bayless? Who should be No. 3?

Sat, 05/17/2008 - 12:46pm

By Nick Prevenas

[img_assist|nid=2007|title=OJ Mayo - Photo: IconSMI |desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=447]So you mean to tell me there are more than two players in this year's NBA Draft?

Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley (or, if you prefer, Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose) are widely considered to be the can't-miss stud prospects this year.

One has the potential to enter the Chris Paul-Deron Williams debate as America's best young point guard, while the other posted one of the most impressive freshman campaigns in college basketball history.

This is great news if your team happens to land a top-two pick during the draft lottery on May 20.

Of course, 58 other picks must be made, starting with the snake-bitten team that happens to be picking third.

That's not to say there isn't some tremendous talent available, but the drop-off from "Rose/Beasley" to "everyone else" is considerable.

There is no Al Horford available this year, only a handful of "maybe if" guys.

The GM at pick No. 3 will likely be choosing between Arizona's Jerryd Bayless or USC's O.J. Mayo.

Both are coming off stellar freshman seasons in the Pac-10. Both can be destructive forces on the offensive end of the floor. Both have their share of red flags that might keep them from reaching their full potential.

However, if a general manager values his job, he'll pick Mayo.

I can understand why NBA teams would be seduced by Bayless' blinding quickness and supreme explosiveness.

He managed to succeed despite the chaos surrounding Arizona's basketball program last season. He came into Tucson expecting to play in Lute Olson's wide-open, fan-friendly offense, which produced guards like Gilbert Arenas and Mike Bibby.

Instead, interim head coach Kevin O'Neill installed his Rick Carlisle-esque buttoned-down, play-oriented scheme that kept creativity at a minimum.

Bayless still managed to finish the season as Arizona's scoring leader at 19.7 points per game, and even enjoyed a three-game stretch where he torched opponents for more than 30 points each time out.

Not only did Bayless shoulder most of the scoring load, he had to run the offense while point guard Nic Wise sat out with an injured knee and he often had to guard the opponent's best perimeter player.

No easy feat.

However, major holes in his game started to surface down the stretch. Once teams figured out how to guard Bayless (jump his right hand, force him left, double-team him hard on screen-and-roll situations, keep him out of the lane), his Wildcats closed the season with six losses in their final eight games.

The two wins came over Pac-10 doormats Oregon State, a team among the worst in any major conference.

Mayo, on the other hand, improved drastically throughout his freshman season.

He came into Los Angeles with a reputation slightly better than the bubonic plague. People said he was a me-first ballhog who had no interest in playing anything resembling a team game.

People started telling him he was the "chosen one" since he was in seventh grade, and by the time he graduated high school, he started to believe it.

While it's looking like Mayo might have accepted a few, um, incentives to play at USC, he managed to shed a lot of the baggage he brought to L.A. (on the court, anyway) and bought into the team concept.

If you simply watched Mayo play and ignored the name on the back of his jersey, all you were left with was a remarkably talented guard with a flawless jump shot.

At 6-foot-4, some consider Mayo to be undersized to become a starting NBA shooting guard, but his long arms and terrific instincts more than make up for a 2-inch height deficiency. He can get his shot off against anyone and it doesn't take him much time to square and fire.

Unlike Bayless, Mayo has no problem going to his left. Also unlike Bayless, Mayo seems comfortable running the high pick-and-roll.

While both players are currently high-turnover, mistake-prone guards, Mayo has the rare quality to erase a bad play from his mind and concentrate on making the right play the next time.

See, young guards need to be like the guy from "Memento" — no short-term memory. Unfortunately, Bayless \ remembers everything.

I attended each of Bayless' home games this past season, and he struggled mightily in the closing seconds of any tight ballgame. Sean Singletary got the best of him on Nov. 17, James Harden outdid him on Feb. 10, and he failed to make the necessary clutch plays in tight losses to Stanford (Feb. 16) and UCLA (March 2).

For someone with his outstanding playmaking abilities, these lapses in tight games are a major cause for concern.

Mayo, on the other hand, lives to take the big shot. He might not always knock it down, but he will make the correct play more often than not.

If that isn't enough to convince you, let's take a look at what happened at McKale Center on Feb. 28. Mayo completely out-played Bayless in what turned out to be a critical turning point for each of their respective squads.

Mayo tallied 20 points on an assortment of jumpers and runners and held Bayless to eight points on 2-of-6 shooting. Bayless committed six turnovers to Mayo's one.

Is Mayo a perfect prospect? Not by a long shot. He still hasn't met a shot he didn't like.

On the flipside, Bayless needs even more work in order to reach his Arenas-Monta Ellis ceiling.

Both youngsters have flaws, but they also possess worlds of upside, topside, overside and uber-side.

Which one is closer to realizing it? The smart money is on Mayo.



The case for Bayless: Why Bayless is the better pick

by Adi Joseph

[img_assist|nid=2008|title=Jerryd Bayless - Photo: IconSMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=357]

The ball enters his hands. He takes off. He's untouchable.

Jerryd Bayless floats on hardwood, sifting through opposing defenses as though they are statues in a wax museum.

Bayless plays the game at a different speed from the rest. He was uncontainable at the college level, if only because no one could compete with his remarkable quickness. As he prepares to enter the NBA, he's emerged as the clear-cut third-best player in this draft class because of that same speed and grace.

Look, O.J. Mayo is nice. He's got a brilliant jump shot and a knack for scoring. Brook Lopez can develop into a top-caliber post scorer. But there's something different about Bayless.

He's part-Gilbert Arenas, part-Leandro Barbosa. He's got some Dwyane Wade in him, and there are obvious Allen Iverson influences as well.

Bayless isn't a pure point guard. But with his combination of athleticism, scoring ability and ball-handling skills, he is the perfect player for the modern combo-guard position.

And what sets him apart from Mayo and other, similar combo-guards is Bayless' incredible intensity and resilience.

Jan. 12: Arizona is heading to what could be a potential trap road game against a solid Houston team. The Wildcats lost three of their last four while Bayless has been sidelined with a strained right knee.

That didn't stop him. Bayless went off for an incredible 33-point, nine-assist effort where he was clearly the best player on the floor at all times. He burned the Cougar defense effortlessly, blowing by star guard Robert McKiver and anyone else Houston coach Tom Penders threw at him.

"I was just hoping he'd be a little out of shape and not quite 100 percent," Penders said of the dominant player.

Bayless has a tremendous array of skills. He finished the season averaging 19.7 points and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Still, it would be unfair to avoid evaluating his weaknesses. And it's clear that Bayless is far from a true point guard. He looks for his shot too aggressively at times and can play out of control.

Teammates have criticized him for being tough to play with, in the same way that Kevin Garnett was tough to play with when the Timberwolves were mired in mediocrity.

But Bayless is a star in the making. Just watch him move with the ball — it's a special characteristic. It stands out. He stands out.

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