WE’RE HERE FOR YOU
I still remember the look of surprise on Byron Mullens’ face when he turned around in his locker room chair following the Bobcats 96-95 win over Milwaukee on Opening Night – December 26, 2011 – and saw a handful of reports with their cameras on and microphones ready.
“You guys want to talk to me?” Mullens asked us surprisingly before addressing the group. And who could blame him. There’s not much for Mullens to remember from his first two years in the NBA, or at least not a large sample set to forget. After being drafted with the No. 24 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by Dallas and shipped to Oklahoma City on draft night for Rodrique Beaubois (No. 25 overall) and a future second round pick, Mullens did not see much action his first two seasons. He averaged 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 26 games for the Thunder in his first two years in the league. He played just 139 minutes in his first two seasons, averaging 5.3 minutes in the 26 games he saw action in. But all of that was about to change when he got to Charlotte.
MOST OF HIS MINUTES
Bobcats President of Basketball Operations Rod Higgins announced on December 19, 2011 that the team had acquired Mullens from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick. Seven days later Mullens made the Charlotte debut mentioned above and relished in the minutes he was getting on the court for the Cats. It took just eight games for Mullens to play more than he had played in two years with the Thunder.
Mullens averaged 13.0 points in his first 13 games including 10 double-digit scoring performances, highlighted by 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field in Charlotte’s 112-100 win over Golden State on January 14 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“I haven’t had much court time in the NBA until now, but everything is working out for me right now,” Mullens said early in the season. “This is a great opportunity for me to basically start over with my career.”
Mullens finished his first season with the Cats averaging 9.3 points and 1.8 rebounds while connecting on 12 of 51 treys in 65 games, including 25 starts.
HITTING THE GLASS
Mullens always knew he could shoot it, but after his hot start with the Bobcats in 2011-12, it became evident he wouldn’t just be able to rely on his shot. He had to improve his defensive game, especially on the boards.
Mullens had six double-doubles all season, led by a career-high 31-point outburst in the Bobcats 95-90 loss on April 6 in Milwaukee. He connected on 14-of-23 shots from the field, but perhaps even more impressively, brought down 14 rebounds – including nine offensive boards – and blocked two shots.
While it was no secret that Mullens’ presence on the defensive end was lacking, he never stopped working to get better in the paint. He averaged 10.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in 16 games in April and posted three double-doubles after being held to just one from January 10 – April 3.
NO VEGAS VACATION
After finally starting to see the court consistently in his third season, Mullens wasn’t about to let up in the summer of 2012. He was given clearance to play with the Bobcats summer league team in Las Vegas and made the most of his opportunity. He averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds while helping lead the Cats to a 4-1 overall record. His most impressive showing came in Charlotte’s third game, as he scored 31 points, brought down eight rebounds and added one block while also connecting on three 3-pointers to lead the Bobcats to an 81-78 victory over Minnesota on July 17, 2012.
“This summer, I know what I need to work on, coach knows what I need to work on, and that’s what we’re doing,” Mullens told me in Las Vegas. “I love it here. I didn’t know what my role was going to be last year. I was just a scorer really, but now this year coming in I have to do a lot more. I’m expected to do that for my teammates and I want to have their backs and try to do it… I’m here for my teammates, here for my coaches and here for this organization.”