Chris Mullin on D-League Success Story Kelenna Azubuike
Posted Dec 10 2007 4:50PM
One year ago, Kelenna Azubuike was leading the D-League in scoring for the Fort Worth Flyers. Last Friday night, the Warriors needed his 11 fourth quarter points to defeat the visiting Miami Heat.
Itís been an amazing year-long journey for the undrafted Azubuike who was signed by the Warriors on New Yearís Eve and whose claim to fame was head coach Don Nelson (jokingly) confusing him with the popular beverage, Sambuca.
No one is making that mistake now as Azubuike officially shed the obscurity tag, having filled in for the suspended Stephen Jackson while averaging close to 19 points per game. Now coming off the bench, Azubuike averages 13.2 points in 30 minutes.
Chris Mullin, Warriorsí Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, spoke about Azubuikeís journey, his emergence and his valuable role in Nellieís small ball attack.
NBA.com: How much of a factor was Azubuikeís development in your decision to trade Jason Richardson on Draft day?
Chris Mullin: It had some impact. We felt good about Kelennaís ability to give us some minutes. I canít say we had him penciled in to replace Jason with Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, and the collection of guys we had on our roster, but we do feel good about Kelennaís ability to play in our style and in our system. Heís a hard worker and he just keeps improving. From that standpoint, it gave us a better feeling about it. It wasnít something we look at as a one for one where weíre just going to plug him in and carry on. It was more of a collective thought process.
NBA.com: From a team perspective, how important was his early season emergence while Stephen Jackson was sidelined?
Chris Mullin: He played great. Unfortunately we didnít win any of those games. I think that experience will benefit both Kelenna and our team moving forward because he had to play big minutes, had to play down the stretch and in the fourth quarter. As early as that first road trip it came back to help us as he made a big shot in Philly. I think thatís directly related to him getting valuable minutes and us relying on him. Again, it will only help his development.
NBA.com: Does Azubuike break out if Jackson wasnít sidelined?
Chris Mullin: He probably doesnít get as many minutes, but again, thatís what a team is all about. You have to deal with different circumstances all year long. Itís such a long season. Sometimes how those things develop isnít as important as what happens when they do happen and how you handle them. Itís a credit to Kelennaís hard work and also being in the right type of system where his ability can flourish.
NBA.com: What impressed you the most when you scouted him in the D-League?
Chris Mullin: We were fortunate to have a good relationship with his coach Sidney Moncrief, who is on our staff now. He saw him everyday, so we had an advantage there. When we called him up, it was New Years Eve. I think he played big minutes his first game in Oklahoma City. He got a good feel for us, we got a good feel for him and I think the relationship has continued to grow.
NBA.com: Leo Papile, the Celtics assistant executive director of basketball operations, recently called Azubuike the most impactful minor league call up in the last two years. Do you agree?
Chris Mullin: If it is true I hope it continues to be true. There is a lot of good talent and a lot of times it really is about finding the right match as much as just the talent. In the short time it has worked out well, so we hope it keeps increasing and growing.
NBA.com: What do you think his success means for the D-League in terms of other teams utilizing the D-League teams for player call ups?
Chris Mullin: I think it will have an impact each time a player is called up. It draws attention and rightfully so. David Stern has done a wonderful thing creating that league. It just gives these players another avenue to pursue their careers and not have to feel that if they donít make it right away that they have to either give up their dream or feel like they have to go where theyíre not going to be heard from or seen. I think itís a great league. Each and every time someone succeeds people are going to take notice and gain more confidence in it. I really think it will keep growing.
NBA.com: Does it surprise you that a player of his talent went undrafted in 2005? Why did he fly under the radar?
Chris Mullin: Circumstances dictate how things play out. I donít know his college stats, but he was somewhat of an up and down performer. Aside from his work ethic, another great thing about him is his personality. Heís really a fantastic young man, a total team guy. His temperament is one that doesnít get rattled. In the world of professional sports itís important to not get too high and not get too low and bring that consistent effort each and every day. Sometimes guys like that take a little time to mature, but itís been really nice having him.
NBA.com: How much has Azubuike benefited from Nellieís small ball?
Chris Mullin: Heís a very good player for our system. Weíre not afraid to move him around. He doesnít have to play just the two guard. We can look at matchups that we feel are to our advantage. He can shoot the three, he can run, he gets up and down, and the guys he is playing with help him as well. Itís a good fit both ways.
NBA.com: What is his greatest attribute on offense?
Chris Mullin: He is a good shooter and I think he has a good feel for what he canít do. If someone creates the open shot for him, heíll shoot the open shot. He is working on getting a little better post game because sometimes they play small on him. He just has a good feel. He has a nice rhythm to his game. Heís got poise and that will all improve as time goes on.
NBA.com: Nearly a year later, will anyone confuse Azubuike with Sambuca anymore?
Chris Mullin: Not anymore. New Yearís Eve, Nellie might have been having some Sambuca.* I donít think he was confused. I think thatís what he was having at the time. Everyone here in the Bay Area and the organization are pleased to have Kelenna and look forward to his continued success and improvement.
*"Mully called and asked if I liked Sambuca," Nellie said, referring to GM Chris Mullin. "I said, 'Yeah,' and he went out and signed this guy, Azubuike. I thought it was a drink, and he was talking about a player."