Well this game was pretty much the Byron Mullens show. You can’t really have a coming out party during the summer league, as there have been plenty of other high scoring games by summer scrubs you never hear from again. But in this instance, we started to see many different looks from Mullens that aren’t too familiar to us, outside of when he gets into “Pop-A-Shot” mode from the 3-point line.
I think this was a perfect example of seeing Mike Dunlap’s coaching influence on the players. Whereas the previous games may have been less structured in order for the team to get their feet wet, this game seemed to rein in Mullens deep-heaving propensity, and started to reveal a more versatile repertoire that we’ve all been begging for since the Bobcats acquired him.
Mullens started out shooting from deep a couple times, but was able to hit early on. But instead of being satisfied and settling to keep shooting outside, he started to become more aggressive. After faking a pass on the perimeter, he drove hard to the basket, drew a foul, and hit a 15 foot floater. Then he started to post up on the block, where he showed nice footwork and the ability to get a couple hook shots off. He also received the ball at the medium post, and was able to maneuver his way into scoring position for another and 1 basket.
Another aspect of Mullens’ aggressiveness was his work on the offensive boards. He was able to beat his man to position several times, and used some strength and athleticism to gather the boards and finish through contact for a couple buckets. He also was able to tip the ball a couple times when he couldn’t corral it himself, keeping some plays alive for others to finish. This shows that he wasn’t just lazily standing around the perimeter waiting for the chance to launch another three, but that he was actually aware of what was happening on offense and figured out how to get the right spots. Very promising.
Another criticism of Mullens’ game in the past was him not running the floor hard in transition. He often was seen just trotting down the court, or trailing the ball handler and spotting up at the top of the key for a three. But tonight, I saw several times where he made it a point just to get down the floor into the lane, and on one such occasion, he was rewarded with a nice bounce pass from Jeff Taylor for a slam.
One of the most surprising, and promising looks Mullens’ revealed was on the defensive side. He actually has all the intangibles to be a very good defender, from good lateral quickness, footspeed, long arms, and jumping ability. He just has shown no awareness or understanding as to whats supposed to happen on that side of the ball. Today, I felt he was able to show his quick feet in showing out on the perimeter during pick and roll situations to prevent the guard from turning the corner. Although he didn’t get many blocks, he stayed disciplined and at home in the post instead of losing his man and allowing easy buckets.
And most shockingly, he tumbled into press row attempting a steal. Let me repeat, Byron Mullens reacted swiftly and decisively on a ball and knocked it out of bounds, then leaped to try to save the ball inbounds. I don’t recall any such effort from him before, or ever sacrificing his body in such a way. Then he again went for a steal off a trap a couple minutes later, knocking the ball out of bounds. I think Coach Dunlap has finally reached Mullens, and if he can develop all the tools he possesses, the Bobcats have an incredible weapon.
As for other starters, only Kemba was really noticeable. Again, he shows an extra gear that no other player on the court possesses, and is practically unguardable off the dribble. His ball handling is much tighter, and his spin move is starting to become one of his signature moves. His shooting looked marginally better, but still leaves a lot to be desired. But his ability to draw fouls and get to the line is a weapon not to be underestimated, as he easily makes defenders jump and reach for air, and gets to the free throw line with ease. He also dished nicely for 8 assists, and is leading the Vegas Summer League at 6.3 assists per game.
Other than that, Othello Hunter deserves a shout out for some clutch rebounding and shooting, swishing a 20 footer to quell a late T-wolves run, tipping in another bucket to maintain the lead, and nailing two free throws to finish the game off. He almost had a double double with 12 points and 9 rebounds in 19 minutes.