Can Mullens repeat Charlotte success with Sixers?

Can Mullens repeat Charlotte success with Sixers?

April 13, 2014, 10:00 am
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Since arriving from the Clippers, Byron Mullens has averaged 6.4 points and 3.1 rebounds off the Sixers' bench. (USA Today Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Six weeks ago, Sixers coach Brett Brown didn't know where Byron Mullens could fit in with the team.

Now, Brown has more of an idea because of the way Mullens has performed off the Sixers' bench.

Mullens scored 13 points and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds in just over 20 minutes during the Sixers' 111-105 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night.

It was Mullens' fifth double-figure game since he was acquired by the Sixers from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade deadline deal for a future second-round draft pick.

“I really didn't even know much about Byron,” Brown said, calling back to February. “He was someone we saw from afar and was part of a trade. So, in many ways, we inherited him.

“Once he arrived and we started looking at him, we saw a 7-footer who's athletic and can shoot. The question was where he could help connect the dots.”

Where Mullens has helped is as part of the Sixers' second unit. In the 17 games he's played since joining the team, Mullens has averaged 13.4 minutes, 6.4 points and 3.1 rebounds.

That's a far cry from the numbers Mullens had with the Clippers -- 2.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 6.5 minutes per game -- with whom he was a little-used sub after being signed as a free agent during the offseason.

“I think I'm fitting in great,” Mullens said. “It's kinda tough walking into a new team with just 20 games left. I've just got to play it out and see what happens.”

Yet Mullens has been in this kind of situation before.

Taken in the first round (24th overall) of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks, he was immediately traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. There, he was a seldom-used reserve as well, playing just 26 games over two seasons and averaging 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds a game.

But it was another trade -- to the Bobcats -- that revitalized Mullens' career.

Over two seasons in Charlotte between 2011-2013, he saw his playing minutes drastically increase (24.7 per game), scoring (nearly 10 per game) and rebounding (5.7) numbers dramatically increase.

That's what the Sixers now envision Mullens doing for them, and he showed some of that Saturday against his former team.

He had 11 points and four rebounds in nine first-half minutes, as the Sixers fought back from an early deficit to lead 59-56 at the half.

More important, Mullens had a key defensive assignment –- guarding Bobcats center Al Jefferson.

“My first half was decent,” said Mullens, who spent time with former Charlotte teammate Matt Carroll (now a Bobcats radio broadcaster and team official) before the game. “My ankle (which forced him to miss four games) was still bothering me a little bit, but that's how it goes.”

While Jefferson finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs, he only managed seven points in the second half as the Sixers fought back from a 16-point deficit to pull within four points late in the fourth quarter.

“He's a good player, and he's been doing this for years,” Mullens said of Jefferson, the Bobcats' premiere offeason acquisition. “He's such a tough player. You have to respect his jump shot, and his moves in the post. He's got one of the best fakes in the game. It was tough guarding him.”

With only two games remaining for the Sixers, Mullens appears to have a future with the team, but Brown wants him to work on a few things over the summer.

“I'm convinced that his future is based on how fit he is,” Brown said. “If he can start getting cut up and strong, and start thinking like that. He's always going to be able to shoot it; now, can he get down and guard somebody in the post, can he command the ball in the post?

“He did a good of those two things tonight – he made good post moves, and did a decent job on [Jefferson]. Now we've got a 25-year-old athlete that naturally wants to shoot it and can shoot it, and you want to grow him. You want to get him as athletic and as tough as you possibly can. That's born through fitness, getting him in the weight room.”

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