The Charlotte Bobcats receive a great deal of flack these days. Truthfully, they probably deserve most of it. This is the team with the NBA’s worst record at 12-39 and with only 19 wins over their last 117 games. This is also the team that’s blown multiple double-digit leads in the second half this season and tends to make an abundance of bone-headed plays.
However, in their 94-91 win on Monday over the Boston Celtics, the Bobcats saw a glimmer of hope in the form of seven-foot center Byron Mullens.
Mullens terrorized the Celtics, grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds and scoring 25 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the floor and going 4-5 from downtown. He also added four assists and came up with a big rebound late in the fourth quarter off a Celtics miss when Charlotte’s lead was only one.
To say that this performance from Mullens was surprising would be an understatement. After all, he is only averaging 8.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 12.6 points per game on the season, in addition to awful shooting percentages of 38.7 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from three-point range. Basically, Mullens has developed a reputation as a gunner trapped in a big-man’s body. Subsequently, that doesn’t make many opinions of him very high.
But what can’t be denied about Mullens is his potential. He has a solid touch around the rim, a nice mid-range jump shot, the ability to occasionally step out and hit the three and the strength and quickness to get open or create his shot almost anywhere on the floor. The problem is that he hasn’t utilized all of those skills for most of his career.
The Celtics game, though, seemed like it clicked for him a little bit. He utilized multiple facets of his game and, more importantly, didn’t force up contested looks and low-percentage shots. It was an apparent realization for one game. But it might be more than that.
Mullens was out with a severe ankle sprain for 19 games and didn’t return until Feb. 4. Since then, he’s played in five games. In that short stretch, he has actually improved a great deal from the way he was performing before the injury. Through those five games, he is averaging 17.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Even better for Charlotte, he’s been scoring more efficiently, shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from beyond-the-arc. That’s significant improvement from his season averages.
One of the biggest weaknesses that the Bobcats have is their lack of an offensive threat in their frontcourt. Guys like Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Adrien and Brendan Haywood are all okay, but their roles are predominantly centered around their defense.
That makes Mullens vital in the Bobcats potential to rise out of the NBA’s basement. He has to not only put points on the board, but also be efficient in doing so. For most of his career, he hasn’t done that. But if this recent stretch of play from him can continue, that puts Charlotte heading in the right direction, for once.