Byron Mullens was one of the more interesting Bobcats to watch last season. To first-time viewers who caught Mullens on an "on" night they saw a skilled big man firing and hitting shots from the outside...then firing and hitting shots from the outside, the outside, and a few more from the outside. And to be truthful that was a pretty good sight.
The Bobcats didn't exactly light it up from anywhere last year so when anyone hit with consistency it was a cause for some celebration.
But once you watched Mullens a few times you started to see why he probably didn't get off the bench much in Oklahoma City. Granted, the Thunder had a fairly deep rotation so Mullens was buried behind some combination of Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Nenad Krstic and maybe even Cole Aldrich but his defense and rebounding didn't help.
Mullens struggled at times with the "ball-you-man" principle of playing defense. He was all over the "you" but he struggled keeping up with the "man" and "ball" portions, occasionally at the same time. This led to not-so-great defensive possessions for Mullens and, basketball being the fantastic team sport that it is, the team as a whole.
Mullens was not technically the worst defender Charlotte had last year, at least according to the defensive ratings at www.basketball-reference.com. His rating was about average for the team. As we are all well aware it was a team that had the worst winning percentage in the history of the league. So no Bobcat player was any great shakes on defense. And to be fair, the center position was not one of wealth and saw Mullens in some tough match-ups many nights.
Still, according to 82games.com, Mullens was giving up and average of 20 points per night per 48 minutes to his counterpart, at the four or the five. The Bobcats defense as a team actually improved when he was not on the court giving up about 2 points less per 100 possessions. It was not all Mullens but it's very clear he has to be better on defense this season especially if he is going to play as big a role as is expected.
Mullens also needs to be a bigger contributor on the glass. Of the 1402 chances Mullens had at a defensive rebound last year he was able to secure the ball for his team 231 times which comes out to a defensive rebound percentage of 16.5%. With league leaders doubling that the Bobcats need Mullens to be more of a consistent aggressor on both ends of the floor.
And therein lies the most important thing for Mullens to improve on this year, consistency. Too often last year, and more often as teams realized he really could score, Mullens would have a great night and then follow that up with a not-so-great night at best and a no-show night at worst.
Mullens and new head coach Mike Dunlap seem to be making some progress as he played much better (especially on defense) in Las Vegas during summer league. Yes, it was the summer league and we fawned over it enough at the time but progress is progress.
Mullens might have been the team's best player in Vegas, averaging 15.4 points per game and grabbing 5.8 rebounds per game. Still, he had two huge games scoring (33 and 20 points) but then failed to score in double figures for the other three games. He shot only 38.5% from the floor during summer league and that has to be better as well.
Much of those misses, of course, came from the outside. You'd like to see your big man score some baskets inside the paint as well. And if Mullens can grab a few more rebounds on offense that would certainly help his cause.
But the biggest thing is for Mullens to be able to contribute every night. You're not going to be able to score at a high clip every game and certainly not from the outside. You can contribute in other places, namely on defense and grabbing rebounds. Mullens did provide a pretty legitimate weak side presence for Charlotte last year. Blocking shots on help defense is great and the Bobcats need that. But they really need a consistent effort from their big man. And that will be the most important thing to look for when watching Byron Mullens this year.