Mar 1, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Charlotte Bobcats center Byron Mullens (22) controls the ball while defended by Utah Jazz power forward Derrick Favors (15) during the first half at EnergySolutions Arena . Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Is Byron Mullens A Long-Term Piece For The Charlotte Bobcats?

At 11.6 points per game and 38.6% from the field, fourth-year forward Byron Mullens leads all Charlotte Bobcats big men in scoring. Mullens has started 40 games for the Bobcats after winning the job in preseason, and will enter restricted free agency this summer after the Bobcats decided not to offer him an extension before the October deadline.

Mullens is making $2.25 million this season and at age 24 could make a reasonable case for a raise on his next contract. Will the Bobcats be the team to give him a new deal?

In the offseason, we wondered what exactly Mullens could do to prove he was a long-term component of the Bobcats rebuilding plan. Efficiency was the main problem. Mullens below-average field goal percentage, quick shot tendencies, and inability to get to the line are the culprits of his mediocre scoring efficiency.

Despite adding a three-point shot during the offseason, which he’s hitting at a 31.4% clip, Mullens is smoke and mirrors as a scorer. He doesn’t show much, if any post moves, despite being seven-foot, and around 270 lbs. A lot of the times it seems Mullens just doesn’t realize how good he could be offensively, when he’s settling for three-pointers in half-court sets.

Mullens is still a project. In four seasons he’s played 135 games, 109 of which have been in a Bobcats uniform. He was bench fodder on the Oklahoma City Thunder before being dealt to Charlotte for a second round draft choice. This is his first 82-game season, and it’s worthwhile to mention that he’s had three head coaches in four seasons so far.

If Mullens ever grazes the ceiling of his potential, he’s easily a starting power forward in the NBA. When he’s on, he’s a mismatch nightmare with his size and ability to step out behind the three-point line. He can create driving lanes for Kemba Walker and also be an effective weapon in pick and pop. In today’s NBA, the value of a stretch power forward is huge. The league has really adapted to that European style of play, and the game is about spacing more than it’s ever been.

One thing that potential has showed us over time is that it can result in front office blunders. The Bobcats re-signed Tyrus Thomas under the trance that he would live up to his potential in Charlotte following a change of scenery from Chicago. Coincidentally Thomas was 24 when the Bobcats gave him a five-year, $40 million contract, and had four head coaches in his first four seasons. Now Thomas is being viewed as a likely victim of the amnesty provision in the offseason, after failing to live up to his contract. The Bobcats can’t afford a similar situation.

If the Bobcats can upgrade their frontcourt with a player like Al Jefferson, Josh Smith or Paul Millsap, then keeping Mullens doesn’t become a priority. If they decide to save their funds, build through the draft and inexpensive free agent signings, then retaining Mullens would be smart. It’s tough finding a fair comparison for Mullens as a restricted free agent. He could range anywhere from a Kosta Koufos extension at three years, $9 million to a Brandon Bass salary of three years, $19.3 million. A deal in that neighborhood doesn’t cripple the Bobcats financial commitment and allows them to further testdrive Mullens. There’s a fair argument to be given for both sides on Mullens future with the Bobcats. Because of that it will definitely come down to price to determine his spot here.

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