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Season Report Card: Byron Mullens

PER PER Against (Net)
Byron Mullens 12.4 22.6 (-10.2)

Strengths: For Byron, we might be better off calling this “Areas of Improvement” rather than “Strengths.” This year saw a fundamental change in the way Mullens was played; instead of relying on the long midrange jumper, he drastically increased his three-point attempts (5.2 per 36 vs. 1.3 last year). It’s a good idea in theory, since the three-pointer is a more efficient shot and it gave Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Ramon Sessions more room to operate in the paint. (For the reality, see Weaknesses.)

Even though Mullens was a below-average rebounder overall, he made significant strides on his defensive rebounding. He grabbed 22 percent of the available defensive boards when he was on the floor, the highest mark on the team and a good rate overall for a power forward. The Bobcats were one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, so there are caveats there, but he still showed an improved aggressiveness on that end.

Mullens also made minor gains in other areas. His rebounding percentage overall got a slight bump (13.5 percent TRB, up from 12.8 percent TRB last year), and he showed some growth in his passing. As a result of his additional three-point attempts, he also saw a very minor increase in his eFG% (43.5 percent last year vs. 44.4 percent this year, which is still really bad).

Weaknesses: Woof. Where to start?

The three-point experiment was a mixed bag, at best — even with the shift in his shot selection, Mullens was a very inefficient player. As mentioned above, his eFG% of 44.4 percent was dismal, ranking 146th out of 191 forwards this year.

Part of the issue was Byron’s sometimes passive play. He’s actually decent at finishing around the basket, converting 62 percent of his shots in the restricted area over the past two years, but he spent a little too much time lounging outside the arc instead of fighting for shots inside. Some of that is the offensive scheme and falls on coaching, but we know that Dunlap was at least trying to get Mullens in the post more often. If three-point shots are replacing mid-range attempts, that’s ultimately good for a player’s efficiency. But only 29 percent of Mullens’ attempts came in the paint this year, compared to 38 percent last year. That’s a trend in the wrong direction.

Mullens’ rebounding and defense were also issues. Part of that, again, is the way he’s used: his poor offensive rebounding drags down his overall numbers, but it’s hard for him to get those boards when he plays away from the basket.

He doesn’t have much of an excuse for his defense, however. The team was substantially worse on that end when Mullens played, with their defensive rating dropping from an average of 108.9 to 113 when he was on the court. The frontcourt combo of Mullens and Biyombo seems athletic enough to play solid team defense, but the fundamentals just don’t seem to be there for either at this point.

(Random side note: In the 470 minutes that Mullens and Ben Gordon played together, the team’s defensive rating was an eyepopping 125.8. They should maybe limit how often those two are on the court at the same time.)

Reasons for Optimism: The stretch power forward is becoming more and more common in the NBA, especially as teams have shifted to smallball lineups and increased their share of three-point shots. Still, it’s relatively rare for a seven-footer to hit even 30 percent of his three-pointers, so Mullens does have some value.

If he returns next year, a reduced role and better shot selection could help Mullens improve his efficiency. His defensive issues and inconsistency would be a lot easier to hide in 15 minutes a game, as well.

Reasons for Pessimism: In a team context, Mullens just does not look very good. Overall offensive and defensive ratings declined when he was on the court, as did team rebounding and true shooting. Part of the appeal of a big man that shoots threes is the way it opens up looks inside for other players; that just didn’t materialize with Byron. Given how he’s struggled to defend, he’ll need to grow into an impact player on offense to justify a future with the team.

Depending on how the draft and free agency work out, I do think it’s likely Charlotte will sign Mullens to a qualifying offer. As flawed as he is, he’s still a young player with potential, and it will only cost the Bobcats $3.2 million to bring him back. That’s more than he’s worth at this point, but cap space shouldn’t be an issue this offseason. All that said, unless we see a significant jump from him, I’d bet next season is his last.