Whatever happened to that open competition at backup point guard?
Could it be time for Thunder coach Scott Brooks to circle back to it?
The play of Eric Maynor has raised the question of whether second-year guard Reggie Jackson deserves a shot to show how he might fare running the second unit.
Maynor, once a steady hand and stabilizing presence off the bench, has not been himself since returning from a torn ACL. It's an injury that understandably leads to rust but one Maynor, Brooks and others insist is fully healed. Yet through 14 games Maynor has made only a marginal impact. He's averaging 4.1 points and 1.9 assists while shooting just 31.7 percent from the field. All are career-lows.
Brooks, however, recently told The Oklahoman that he isn't contemplating a change.
“I haven't thought about it,” Brooks said of supplanting Maynor with Jackson. “He's always in the mix, but at the moment, no. But he definitely has to be ready.”
Throughout the preseason Brooks maintained that Jackson was in an open battle with Maynor for the backup spot. Most considered it coach speak, a motivational ploy to get the most out of both players. Thus it was no surprise when Brooks chose Maynor over Jackson, even though Jackson showed improvement, growing confidence and a mix of athleticism and versatility that possibly could result in a better all-around impact.
In the past eight games, though, Maynor has averaged just 2.1 points on 5-for-30 shooting (16.7 percent). Brooks admits Maynor could be playing better, but the coach said he doesn't judge his backup point guards by their statistical production.
“If you're looking for stats, it's an up-and-down position,” Brooks said. “If you're looking for how that group is playing and how the team is playing, then you can get a better feel for how he's doing at a consistent level.”
So far, Maynor hasn't regularly produced in either area.
The second unit is getting worse, not better. Maynor's ineffectiveness has been part of the reason why the Thunder's bench has been outscored by an average margin of 3.1 points. Consequently, Brooks was forced to alter his substitution pattern five games ago and subsidize his second string with Kevin Durant.
Even that has resulted in only minimal success, mostly against inferior opponents.
The ugly truth is without James Harden, the Thunder's bench quickly has gone from a strength to a weakness. Maynor's return was expected to offset some of the inevitable drop-off, but no matter how you slice it Maynor's presence has contributed to the Thunder's problem more than its solution.
Maynor's player efficiency rating — a per-minute measure of production — currently is a career-low 8.00. The league average is 15.00. Maynor's rating is the sixth worst among all NBA point guards who have averaged at least six minutes.
Nearly every other pertinent statistic only substantiates that which is obvious on the court — Maynor is struggling mightily.
Opposing point guards, such as Leandro Barbosa, Eric Bledsoe and Jarrett Jack, have started pressuring Maynor the length of the court. Instead of darting past the overzealous defenders, Maynor often fumbles the ball and nearly gets forced into 8-second counts. Once past halfcourt, Maynor rarely creates as he once did. His assist ratio — the percentage of his possessions that end in an assist — is just 25 percent. That number was 42.5 percent last year, shattering this year's rate even while standing as his previous career low.
Maynor's lack of explosiveness also seems to be hurting him more than ever. At both ends. Although he never was a player who relied on athleticism, Maynor has been unable to turn it on when needed. It was most evident at New Orleans, when Maynor couldn't beat 6-foot-10 Hornets forward Ryan Anderson off the dribble. Perhaps that scene explains why Maynor is settling more for long range attempts, launching 1.7 3-pointers per game, rather than knifing into the painted area looking to create like only he can.
The season is still young, and the steady hand might soon return.
There have been flashes of the old Maynor, after all.
They've just been far too infrequent to not wonder whether a change should be in the works.