Sometimes the deals that don’t have as much publicity can provide the most benefit to a team. The Bobcats might be finding that out this season. Last year the Bobcats acquired benchwarmer Byron Mullens from Oklahoma City in exchange for a 2013 second round draft pick, that’s no longer owned by the Thunder.
Mullens is one of the more intriguing young players not discussed in the NBA. He was a touted prospect in high school, who was ranked #1 overall by Rivals in 2008. His freshman class included names such as Greg Monroe, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Demar DeRozan, Iman Shumpert, Klay Thompson and fellow Bobcat Kemba Walker. This is a summary of his scouting report from Rivals:
Size, athleticism and skill are the big three that separate Mullens from the rest of this class. It just isn’t very often that you find a 7-foot plus center who can run, jump and shoot like Mullens. He has the type of athleticism that makes you think of Bill Walton and then he has the shooting touch that makes you wonder if he could develop into a Dirk Nowitzki type player. Mullens does need to become a tougher defender and rebounder, but the pieces are there for him to be a number one pick in the draft and premiere big man in the League.
Granted, high school basketball isn’t the ultimate say of a basketball prospect since NBA eligibility requires at least one year removed from high school. There have been plenty of players who were great in high school but amounted to nothing in the pros. Mullens ended up staying in town to play for Thad Matta at Ohio State. Mullens’ Buckeyes career was underwhelming to say the least and he predictably left after one season to go to the pros where he was drafted 24th overall in 2009. Most of the knocks about Mullens going into the draft are things that typically lead to big men becoming busts. Draft Express listed the following as concerns:
- All-around offensive polish, Turnover prone, Ability to put ball on floor, Advanced post moves, Commitment to playing defense, Defensive awareness, Defensive fundamentals, Man to man defense, Off-ball defense, Basketball IQ, Doesn’t always play hard, Experience, Focus, Likelihood of reaching potential, Not ready to contribute immediately, Questionable intangibles, Work ethic, Got by on instincts at college level, Not productive enough, Assist to turnover ratio, Passing skills, Average rebounder, Free throw shooting, Jump-shot
It wasn’t really a surprise that he got no playing time on the Thunder, who have championship aspirations. Luckily for Mullens he landed in Charlotte, a team scrambling to find answers in the frontcourt.
Here, Mullens has been a welcome addition, bringing a new element to the team with his jumpshot, scoring instincts and size. So far through training camp and preseason, it seems Mullens has been the most impressive frontcourt player. Reportedly he’s improved his jumper and even expanded his range to the three-point line. In today’s exhibition against the Wizards, Mullens took seven three-pointers and made three of them. He finished 6-13 from the field, 18 points and 8 rebounds.
While preseason doesn’t mean a ton and offseason fluff is at a surplus, it’s reasonable to talk about Mullens future with the team. He’s just 23-years-old and in the last year of his rookie contract. His third season in the league ended up being his first season with any real playing time. While scoring efficiencies and defense need work, it’s hard to overlook an athletic seven-footer who can step out to the perimeter and hit jumpers. Most power forwards in the NBA are expected to do so and even some centers. For me it’s hard to draw a comparison for Mullens. Physically and athletically he’s very gifted. Offensively he shows a lot of promise but defensively…he’s still raw.
It’s great knowing he came into training camp in good shape and immediately making good impressions with an expanded offensive game. While it’s only his second real season with playing time, he knows that management is expecting a great deal from him. It’s a decent amount of pressure for a guy whose acquisition was a mere afterthought in NBA circles.