OKC Thunder 2011-2012 Final Player Grades: End of Season Profiles; Eric Maynor

DENVER, CO - APRIL 23: Eric Maynor #6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shoots a floater in the lane in front of Chris Andersen #11 of the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 23, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

We're kicking off our season-ending player reviews today. The WTLC staff will be rehashing each of the OKC Thunder players over the next two weeks, offering up one review per day. We begin with Eric Maynor, who deserves props for spurring on his team after going down for the season with a torn ACL.

Name: Eric Demarqua Maynor

Nicknames: "E," "Sleazy-E"

Player History:

Eric Maynor played a full four year college career at VCU, leading the Rams to a CAA conference title three times, two NCAA tournament appearances, and an upset over blue-blooded Duke. His stats increased steadily each year, to the point where he was averaging 22.4 points per game and 6.2 assists a game in his senior year. Amidst questions about his ability to transition to the NBA level, he was drafted 20th by the Utah Jazz in the Point Guard-heavy 2009 NBA draft. The Jazz subsequently traded Maynor to the Thunder.

Maynor quickly became a key cog in the Thunder's offense during the 2010-11 season, operating as the back-up point guard and a great change of pace guard when he had to spell Russell Westbrook. Maynor helped lead the Thunder to their only win in the 2011 Western Conference Finals. He came into the 2011-12 season looking to continue to make the Thunder the best 2nd unit in the NBA.

Pre-Season Expectations:

Maynor faced a great deal of pressure and expectations heading into the 2011-12 season. The Thunder, having reached the 2011 Western Conference Finals, were looked on as a team to beat in the upcoming year. As such, a championship-contending team must have an effective bench led by a competent point guard. It may not seem like it from a guy who averaged only 4.2 PPG and 2.9 AST, but Maynor's performance with the second unit was a huge component in the team's ability to recover when games started poorly. His play along side Nick Collison and James Harden enabled the Thunder to deal with any early setbacks and stay competitive in games.

Heading into the season, Maynor would once again be expected to back up All-Star PG Russell Westbrook, keep the bench squad in order, and keep mistakes to a minimum. Without a weak spot for an opposing team to attack, Maynor would help the team get past the previous year's achievements.

Regular Season Grade: Incomplete

You all know what happened. Nine games into the 66-game season, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. The team was despondent when the injury happened. I have a feeling that their collective sadness was two-fold: a) Maynor is a great teammate and friend and they were sad to see their friend get hurt; and b) OKC was faced with a player's physical vulnerability for the first time. Up to that point the Thunder players were a collection of 20-something guys who, apart from Kendrick Perkins, had never suffered through a major injury. They felt indestructible. But when Maynor went down, for the first time they saw it as a real possibility that the wrong guy getting hurt at the wrong time could derail everything.

Furthermore, Maynor's injury set off a string of events that forced a not-quite-ready Reggie Jackson into the backup PG role. When Jackson continued to struggle, the Thunder made the bold move in signing free agent Derek Fisher to fill in the backup role. Fisher's overall performance was uneven at best and had us all longing for #6 to get back into the line-up.

The players dedicated the rest of the season to Maynor and his recovery. Frequently Maynor was seen on the bench cheering his team on, which is the first half of what a team-first guy can do. The second part is to get healthy. Maynor appears to be doing that and will come back strong in the 2012-13 season.

Most Memorable Game:

It is not fair to really try to choose a 'best' game when Maynor only played 9 total, but the 12/31 game where Maynor rolled up 6 assists in 17 minutes was worthy of note. He led the 2nd unit to a remarkable 53 points, which was nearly half of the team's overall production. Furthermore, it was the 2nd unit that helped the team pull away in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, despite the fact that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both struggled.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

It was difficult to find any Maynor highlights with such limited material, but this handshake between he and Durant shows everyone that Maynor is still very much a part of the Thunder culture.

Future Expectations:

First and foremost, Maynor must get his knee healthy. Fortunately for him, Maynor plays his game below the rim and so he doesn't need to get his vertical game in top-notch gear in order to be effective. Maynor simply needs to be back out on the court with the OKC 2nd unit and get to work on his timing and rhythm. Since Maynor went down, James Harden seized the reins of the Thunder bench, and so it is going to be an adjustment for Maynor to get back into the action and resume where he left off.

One important element to note is that Maynor is eligible for his first contract extension this season. We have not yet seen any preliminary numbers discussed, but the initial fear was that Maynor might have to leave because he is clearly talented enough to run his own team and he's never going to get more than 18-20 minutes per game with Westbrook in front of him.

However, this comment that Maynor made during the exit interviews resonates:

“If we really want to continue, it feels like we got something special here. I feel like if guys sacrifice to get something done then everybody will be here still.”

This is a powerful statement because Maynor, as a backup PG, doesn't necessarily know how often opportunity is going to come knocking. He may only get a couple of chances in his career to prove his worth as a starter. Yet he seems to be willing to forgo some of that in the near term because he is aware of how truly special and unique the Thunder's situation is. Although it is difficult to say how far below market price Maynor will be willing to go, the fact that Maynor is willing to entertain the notion and state it publicly really tells us where his heart and motivation is.

It is going to be exciting when Maynor finally returns to the court and we can only hope that his dedication to the team enables him to stay healthy and help the Thunder bench return to its lofty level of performance.

***

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

Other Player Grades:

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