INSIDER: THE UNKNOWN OF BYRON MULLENS

Fewer than 24 hours after the Clippers officially agreed to terms with center Byron Mullens, I started scouring two years of film on him.

I had seen him in person twice in 2012-13 against the Clippers and otherwise, admittedly, paid as little attention to Charlotte as any team in the league. The film illustrated a lot about the 24-year-old former first round draft pick. And also left a lot of questions unanswered.

It is not as though Mullens is an unknown. He was among the top high-school recruits in the nation six years ago as a rangy, 7-footer from central Ohio. He was the No. 24 pick after a year at Ohio State. He started 66 games in the last two seasons with the Bobcats.

Still, Mullens has lived in relative obscurity during his four-year NBA life. In two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder he attempted 47 shots and nary a 3-pointer. Two winters ago, following the lockout, he was shipped to Charlotte, where he appeared in one nationally televised game.

In Charlotte, though, he played and shot. He went from 51 attempts from 3-point range in year three to 208 last season. He is a rarity, one of only seven players 7-foot or taller who even attempted a shot from long range in 2012-13. He made 31.7 percent of them. But there is no telling how much that number could balloon in his third season of court time and when he’s surrounded in the front court by some combination of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes or Jared Dudley.

The video footage of Mullens, including watching a significant number of his made field goals, showed his willingness to shoot and not just spot-up jumpers. He caught a pass with David West at his back, waited patiently, dribbled once and knocked down a baseline fadeaway over his left shoulder. He has a one-legged fadeaway in his arsenal. He can sweep across the lane for a variety of hook shots and runners. He has a jump hook over smaller defenders. He seems proficient at getting in position for offensive rebounds and put-backs, especially when slotted in as the center (instead of playing alongside Bismack Biyombo). Out of his career-high 6.4 boards last year, nearly 1.5 came on the offensive glass.

However, the aspect of Mullens’ game that stood out more than anything and more than I realized is that he’s a better athlete than I suspected. Against the Clippers in December 2012, he showed he was capable of running the floor in transition and finishing. What I did not know was that he can also create baskets for himself off the dribble. Is he Jamal Crawford? Absolutely not. But he is also far from a prototypical 7-foot, 275-pounder.

Here Mullens drives baseline and gets to the rim against the Celtics:

 

 

And in a jaw-dropping moment, he collects his own rebound and throws down over LaMarcus Aldridge:

 

 

The Celtics game on Feb. 11, a week after Mullens returned from a severe ankle injury, likely stood out above all else. He scored 25 points with 18 rebounds to lead Charlotte to a 94-91 victory. Performances like that were few and far between, though. He had just three 20-10 games all season and just eight double-doubles overall.

And that’s where the questions about Mullens arise. Did his statistics fall off towards the end of the year because he never fully recovered from his ankle sprain? Five of the double-doubles he compiled came before the New Year and he suffered the injury on Dec. 22. Why were the Bobcats, owners of one of the league’s worst records, willing to give up on him? Presumably, because of the selection of Cody Zeller at No. 4 in the 2013 Draft in combination with the signing of Al Jefferson.

Perhaps, the most pertinent question when it comes to the Clippers will be whether or not Mullens can serve as the third big man. The film says, yes. He can stretch the floor if teamed with either Griffin or Jordan in stretches. Factor in, Mullens’ youth (he would have made his NBA debut last season if he stayed at Ohio State through his senior year) and the idea that he will not be asked to play an exorbitant number of minutes, considering the team will likely utilize Barnes and Dudley as small-ball fours at times, and the addition seems worthwhile.

We’ll know more a year from now, when the film won’t be nearly as necessary.

BYRON MULLENS HIGHLIGHTS FROM APRIL 2012: