The best indicator Monday that Byron Mullens has taken to being a low-post scorer actually involved a play where he didn’t score. Or even shoot.
About 21/2 minutes remained and the Charlotte Bobcats trailed the Milwaukee Bucks by three. Mullens had the ball to the right of the basket. Two Bucks charged at him. He turned and threw a strike to teammate Ramon Sessions for a tying 3-pointer.
Asked about that play, Mullens grinned like a kid who got everything he wanted Christmas morning.
“I think that’s the first time I ever got double-teamed in the NBA,” said the 7-foot Mullens, in his fourth NBA season.
He is reinventing himself. For the longest time he defaulted to long jump shots as his means of scoring. This season he’s more of a rebounder, more of a shot-blocker and – particularly in these past four games – more of a post scorer.
Charting his shots in the Bucks game tells a tale: He made seven of 14 attempts for 19 points. Only two attempts were 3-pointers. The rest were from 17 feet or closer, either pull-up jumpers, jump hooks or layups.
More telling, perhaps, is how that affected the Bucks’ defense. Along with that key feed to Sessions out of the double-team, Mullens earned four free throws in the fourth quarter. That’s a different player than he was in his first season as a Bobcat.
“I started really working the post game against Washington and it took off from there,” he said. “Memphis really boosted my confidence – playing two All-Stars in (Marc) Gasol and (Zach) Randolph. Now I’m looking forward to different matchups against different teams.”
Mullens grew up a jump-shooter, and as coach Mike Dunlap noted recently, was probably viewed as soft his first couple of NBA seasons.
“In high school I was always quick. This is more about being patient – how deep (in the lane) will they let me get before the catch? It’s coming,” Mullens said at practice Tuesday.
There was a temptation in the fourth quarter Monday to fade back out to the perimeter, and Mullens consciously resisted:
“Down three I was thinking ‘How can I tie this up?’ I stuck to my guns and stayed in the post. Milwaukee double-teamed it and I found Ramon. That wouldn’t have happened my first few times in the post,” Mullens said.
Dunlap said as teams grow in respect for Mullens in the post, he’ll have a whole new defensive approach to overcome.
“They’ll either trap him or do what we call ‘yo-yo’ and rake down on the ball,” Dunlap described. “He’ll have to make a decision about finding people. So we’ll have training for him in practice to find that pass.”