Posted Mar 28 2012 10:12AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Coach Paul Silas said there was a time this season when he wasn't sold on Byron Mullens being a big part of the Bobcats' future.
That's clearly changed over the last two games.
During that span Mullens has played with significantly more toughness, particularly Monday against Boston's Kevin Garnett. Mullens had 18 points, seven rebounds and two blocks against the Celtics.
That came just two nights after a double-double -17 points and 10 rebounds - against the New Jersey Nets.
When asked Tuesday if he views Mullens a part of the team's future, Silas said, "I do now."
Silas said the metaphorical light seems to have gone on for Mullens.
"Initially we had our questions about him, but he's learning," Silas said. "And he is talented. He can shoot the basketball and is learning how to rotate and block shots and rebound. He's coming along. I'm happy for him because it's been a struggle for him.
"I think he's going to be pretty good."
Just not at the position you might think.
Silas thinks the 7-foot, 275-pound Mullens, who likes to play out away from the basket and has a very smooth jump shot, is best suited to play power forward in the NBA.
He's played him there are times alongside starting rookie center Bismack Biyombo, but for the most part Mullens has had to play center because Gana Diop, the only true center on the roster, has been plagued by injuries.
Mullens said he's all for playing power forward.
"I think it's good because I can spread the defense," said Mullens, whose Bobcats host Minnesota on Wednesday night. "But I know I still have things to work on and I have to get down there and bang with the bigs. That's something that is just coming around the last few games."
Mullens started the season out like gangbusters, averaging 12.4 points per game over his first 17 games and winning over home fans and earning a starting role.
But opposing teams began to figure him out, and his numbers - and his confidence - tailed off and Mullens averaged a mere 6.7 points per game over the next 28 games, particularly struggling on the road.
He went back to being a reserve.
Opposing centers, especially the more physical ones, figured out they could muscle Mullens inside and score easy points in the paint, making him a defensive liability.
Mullens seems to have figured that out - or at least improved enough to compete.
Over the last two games, he's played significantly tougher and more physical on defense, even exchanging back and forth jabs with Garnett.
"He started having a little toughness in there and his focus was so much better," Silas said. "He started making shots and not only that, he was trying to defend and block shots and rebound and to me that was the biggest difference."
Silas said Mullens will never be a post-up player, but he doesn't care.
"As long as he can pop out and make jumpers - that's his game," Silas said.
Still, Mullens is only averaging 4.3 rebounds per game and the Bobcats need that number to improve next season.
The fact that Mullens is even a part of the conversation is a credit to the Bobcats' front office, which traded away a second-round draft pick in 2013 to Oklahoma City for the seldom-used big man.
Mullens had only logged 137 minutes during his first two seasons in the league with the Thunder and scored just 39 points. By contrast, this year he's averaging more than 20 minutes per game and has scored 418 points.
It's starting to look like the best of the 17 trades in the Michael Jordan era in Charlotte.
"Early on it wasn't there for him," Silas said. "But I talk all of the time about how it takes time. I have to recognize that myself because you look at a kid and if he's not getting it done you say, `Why are we going this far?'
"And then you keep going with him, and going with him, and finally he picks it up. All of us have to understand that patience is important."
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