OKC Thunder 2010-2011 Final Player Grades: End of Season Profiles; Byron Mullens

Today we look at the third young big man that the Thunder began this departed season with - Byron Mullens. He, like D.J. White and Cole Aldrich, spent most of his time on the sidelines as it was difficult to crack into the rotation, so our sample set is limited. His challenge, like Aldrich, will be to see if he can grow into a competent back-up center behind Kendrick Perkins.

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BYRON MULLENS

History

Mullens was a basketball prodigy coming up through the high school ranks. He accepted a scholarship to play with the Ohio State Buckeyes when he was heading into the 9th grade and signed his letter of intent in 2007. Mullens had modest success while at OSU, scoring only 8.8 points and grabbing 4.7 rebounds in his lone season. After his freshman year at OSU, Mullens declared himself eligible for the NBA draft in 2009. Mullens was selected at the 24th pick by the Dallas Mavericks, and immediately traded to the Thunder for the aptly named French player, Rodrigue Beaubois

Since joining the Thunder, Mullens has appeared sporadically in their regular season games, booking appearances in 13 games in each of his two seasons.

Pre-Season Expectation

Mullens is a 7 footer with good athletic ability and solid shooting range. While Aldrich is a defense-first center, Mullens has shown more signs on the offensive end of the court. Heading into this season, the Thunder featured Nenad Krstic as the starting center and hoped that either Mullens or Aldrich would round into form and provide valuable back-up minutes. In the Thunder's perimeter-oriented offense, Mullens' talent set was likely expected to blend well.

Regular Season Grade: D

Mullens' best shot at earning meaningful minutes came early on in the season when the Thunder's front line depth featured Krstic, Nick Collison, Jeff Green, and Serge Ibaka. Not only was the team shallow at this point, but also extremely weak and untested. Mullens, along with Aldrich and White, could have made serious headway in earning their keep by thriving during the early part of the season. Unfortunately for Mullens, he did very little to distance himself from the pack, spending time being shuttled back and forth to the Thunder's D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers.

Mullens went over four months without stepping on the court. He played in the team's final game of the regular season, a loss to the Bucks.

I know that it is difficult for a player such as Mullens to meet expectations when he barely saw the court. My general feeling is, when a guy does see action, even if it is in a rout (especially so, since there is no pressure at all) he needs to show his coach something that sends the message to Scott Brooks, "I need to give this guy five minutes next game out and see how he does." Unfortunately Mullens was not able to earn those minutes this past season.

Post-Season Grade: N/A

Most Memorable Game

Mullens' best game of the year fell on the final game of the regular season. The Thunder had locked up the 4th spot in the playoffs and bore no risk in losing to the Bucks, so the team gave the younger players ample minutes to go to work. In this final game, Mullens scored 10 points off of 4-9 shooting and grabbed five rebounds.

Most Memorable Single Moment

I'm going to need some help on this one. Anyone?

Future Outlook

In my ever-so-small sample set of game moments to evaluate Mullens, two things surface:

1) His upside seems to be that of a Rik Smits type player. He's seven feet tall with good mobility and a soft shooting touch. Despite being so tall and being heavier than Aldrich, Mullens is quick off the floor and has some ability to drive the ball to the rim. 

2) Mullens seems to really have hurt his overall basketball development by trying to advance his pro career too quickly. From the time he accepted a scholarship when he was in junior high to leaving Ohio State early despite showing very little in terms of prodigious talent, Mullens has seemed too keen on thinking he is ready to deal with the Kevin Garnett's of the world. 

I found this highlight clip of Mullens, and it does show some of that promise in his offensive skills:


You can see that there is some real offensive dexterity and talent present, a quick release, and good touch around the rim. I think what has probably hindered Mullens though is he has spent his entire career being taller than everyone else, and as such has yet to really learn how to battle against guys who are taller and stronger. 

It would be great if the Thunder can hold onto Mullens, perhaps stick him in Europe for a couple seasons, and let him grow up a bit and fill out his frame. I see some real talent in Mullens' offense, but until he learns to go to work on the court, I doubt that the NBA is going to see much of it showcased. On top of that, according to Darnell Mayberry, Mullens has fallen behind Aldrich on the race for that extra big man role, and the team still seems intent on re-signing Nazr Mohammed for the back-up center position. 

In the alternative, if the Thunder have one hole in their second unit, it is the lack of an adequate back-up for Kevin Durant. Obviously there is going to be a huge drop-off between Durant and anyone who plays behind him, but morphing Mullens into a seven foot small forward? That concept is kind of interesting. You can see in that video clip that Mullens is comfortable shooting the ball out to about 18 feet, faces up well, and has good body control. If he does not pan out as a solid back-up center, I would be curious to see if Mullens is better suited for the 3-spot.

I also personally hope Mullens opts for a better overall "look," as he is at best a ringer for the Dothraki chieftain, Khal Drogo.  

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

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