Today, we take a look at the yin to Russell Westbrook's yang, Eric Maynor.
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. Oddly enough, he was seen as more of a score first point guard in college, but his lack of speed and athleticism wouldn't allow him to carry that game to the NBA. 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.
He proved to be a more than capable backup for Deron Williams, and even started two games. But the Jazz realized they needed to cut salary for next year, because they wanted to re-sign their star, Carlos Boozer. That, coupled with the fact that the Jazz had another capable PG backup in Ronnie Price, caused them to trade Maynor to the Thunder in order to get them to accept the contract of Matt Harpring as well. In all senses of the word, Maynor was the odd man out on the Jazz.
In his first season with the Thunder, Maynor was exactly the backup Point Guard the Thunder needed. Kevin Ollie, the free agent signing meant to replace Earl Watson, didn't hurt the team in any way, but he didn't really help them either. He was just present. However, Maynor provided a bit of ball movement and a bit of offense to the backup point guard position, making the Thunder just that much better.
Going into the season, I think a lot of people wanted to see just a bit more out of Eric Maynor offensively. We had seen him play the role of the distributor many times, and he did a fine job with that. But when he was on the court, sometimes the Thunder were without two or all of their big three (Durant, Westbrook, Green) and they sometimes struggled to find offense. Maynor would sometimes take a three or hit an open jumpshot, but we rarely saw him drive the ball or try to find offense for himself in any way.
Regular Season Grade: B-
Honestly, we saw both progression and regression from Maynor. A quick glance at his stats this year when compared to last year shows you that he regressed slightly, if only because of a decrease in minutes. But a closer look shows you that he has improved a bit. He's smarter about shooting his threes, he's gotten to the line more, and he performed more consistently offensively throughout the season. But, he did take a few steps back as well. His season high with the Thunder last season was 15, which he achieved twice, but his season high this season was a paltry 10. While he has given a low number of points on a consistent basis, he hasn't shown a real spark that leads us to believe he could ever become a regular offensive contributor.
Otherwise, he performed pretty much on par. He continues to be the assist man for guys who need their plays set up for them, like Nick Collison and Daequan Cook. That's why he's usually in a lineup that doesn't feature Westbrook and Durant, the two players who are best at scoring on their own. He also served as a decent defender, one who can make a good steal that leads to the break occasionally and always keep in front of his man.
Post Season Grade: B+
The playoffs were a different story. Here, we saw Maynor's level-headed play provide a much-needed contrast to Russell Westbrook in key situations. While Westbrook would sometimes try to take control of games by recklessly charging at the hoop, Maynor would sit back and run the offense, keeping things diverse and avoiding major collapses.
But, by the same token, he was much more aggressive offensively as well. He shot about a half attempt more per game than in the regular season, and was at the line at least once a game on average. He did, admittedly, have off-nights, but when he was on, he would help the Thunder to stunning victories, like his 12 point performance that helped the Thunder take a 1-0 lead against Denver, his 15 point performance that helped the Thunder level the Memphis series at 1-1, his 9 assists that helped the Thunder destroy the Grizzlies in Game 5, and his 13 points that helped the Thunder cash in their lone win over Dallas. All in all, his stats were a good indicator as to whether the Thunder won a certain game, and he had many game-saving performances that we never saw from him in the regular season.
Most Memorable Game:
I don't think any of us will ever forget the game that Eric Maynor had against the Mavericks during Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Westbrook had missed a couple of shots and lost the ball late in the third, so he was sat in favour of Maynor. Maynor stayed in for the rest of the fourth quarter. There's no singular moment that sticks in my mind about his performance. In fact, he had only one made shot and one assist. But the important is that he kept the ball moving, and helped the Thunder turn a one point fourth quarter advantage into a 6 points lead over the Mavericks.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
About halfway through the season, Eric Maynor gained a reputation for shooting long-distance bombs especially well. Why? Well, he hit this half-court heave at the Arco Arena, which is probably the second best thing that happened there all season (apart from the double-overtime madness against the Lakers at the end of the season). Now, he seems to take all of our end of quarter shots, if he happens to be in the game. He hasn't hit another one from that far out yet, but he's gotten close, so I have no problem with him being our "long ball man", so to speak.
Eric Maynor hasn't shown improvement on the stat sheet, but his consistent performance throughout the season and his clutch play in the playoffs shows that there's still potential to be had in Eric Maynor. He's a bit old for a second-year player, as he turns 25 tomorrow. But I could still see him evolving into a decent scorer for our team, and I can see his defense improving as he gains experience.
What he does this year and next year will largely effect what kind of money he gets going forward, or whether the Thunder will even have the money to re-sign him. With Harden, Ibaka, and Cook all due money soon as well, there just might not be enough cash in the bank. But that's all down the road, and for now, there's no point guard I'd rather have value-wise backing up Russell Westbrook. He truly is the perfect opposite.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations