Byron Mullens, coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists with a 12.3 PER for the Charlotte Bobcats, isn't exactly one of the most coveted remaining free agents. But despite the lack of glamor associated with his name, he'd help boost the Los Angeles Clippers' bench play.
Right now, the prevailing thought is that Mullens is coming close to signing a two-year deal with the Western Conference powerhouse:
It's a move that will likely be ridiculed, simply because it must be fun for fans to poke at a player who struggled when surrounded by a staggering lack of talent. However, Mullens will actually help out the Clippers offensively.
Let's take a look at how.
Mullens' most obvious skill stems from his status as a 7-footer who plays the stretch 4, making him the rare—and coveted—big man who can work his way out to the perimeter and drain jumpers. Technically, that's not so rare anymore, as more and more bigs can find the bottom of the net from outside the paint. But it's still coveted.
Although Mullens is great at hitting transition shots as a trailer and works well as a spot-up shooter waiting for the defense to give him any semblance of space, he's best running pick-and-pops. Let's take a look at one such set from the third game of the 2012-13 season, a loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Even if I hadn't told you when in the season this game occurred, early in the year is a safe bet, because Michael Beasley is on the court at the beginning of the action.
After running a pin-down screen on the left side of the court, Mullens moves back out near the top of the key. He receives the ball and sets up with it extended away from Luis Scola.
This is where the set truly begins.
As Kemba Walker curls around Mullens' screen, Goran Dragic and Scola are left with an unappealing set of options.
Dragic can go under the screen, but doing so puts him in Scola's way in case Mullens steps back to the three-point line for a quick pass back and open shot from downtown. If he goes over the screen, he's trailing Kemba, one of the speedier point guards in the Association.
The Phoenix floor general chose the latter, which puts Scola in an awkward position. Now he has to slide over and attempt to slow down Walker while Dragic catches up, but doing so leaves Mullens wide open.
Boom. Three-pointer. Mullens swishes it through like it's nothing, scoring three of his 24 points in one fell swoop.
Two things ultimately make this play possible: Mullens' size and Walker's speed. Both of those will still be present once the 7-footer moves to the Clippers, although he'll be receiving passes from either Chris Paul or Darren Collison, two quick floor generals in their own right. You should expect to see a similar set run quite often when Mullens is on the court.
Just for good measure, let's take a look at one more example.
In this one, the situation is even more important, as Mullens has already made four three-pointers in the game against the Washington Wizards. You can be sure that everyone involved is aware of that as Ramon Sessions brings the ball across half court.
Just as was the case in the last play, Mullens sets up on the perimeter, ready to set a screen if Sessions drives in his direction. And, of course, he does.
As Sessions takes advantage of the screen, Nene Hilario is put in the awkward situation Scola experienced up above. He must choose whether to let the interior defense—which is incredibly spaced out thanks to the other perimeter presences for Charlotte—pick up the driving point guard or switch over and protect the rim.
Neither are particularly appealing choices, but he goes with the second.
Mullens hits his fifth three of the game, giving the Bobcats a lead in overtime that they wouldn't relinquish. He probably won't have to worry about hitting three-pointers in overtime against the Wizards while playing for the Clippers, but he will knock down plenty of jumpers.
Opens Things Up on the Interior
The beauty of having a quality stretch 4 on the bench isn't limited solely to the points he can put up while making perimeter jumpers. If he can hit those shots consistently, he can also draw defenders away from the paint, opening things up around the rim.
Prompted by Tom Thibodeau's innovative system in Chicago, the NBA has been trending toward crowding the paint on defense for a while now. Defenders are encouraged to hang out near the rim as long as possible, daring referees to call them for violations.
Those one-point swings are worth giving up if they can prevent teams from attacking the basket and force them into lofting up mid-range jumpers, the least efficient shot in basketball.
During the 2012-13 season, Mullens hit 31.5 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the three-point arc, and he made 31.7 percent from behind the arc. Those aren't particularly impressive numbers, but there are signs that they could be turned around.
From the respective ranges, Mullens was assisted on 82.9 and 95.5 percent of his makes. He almost never created his own shot, instead relying on passes that set up his shots. And while both Sessions and Walker are solid point guards, neither is particularly great at hitting shooters right in the bread basket.
Chris Paul is.
Playing alongside CP3, Mullens will be able to remain in rhythm, hitting shots without having to worry about compensating for a pass that was slightly off target. I'd be shocked if his percentages don't rise in 2013-14.
The threat of these jumpers inevitably draws the opposing team's power forward away from the basket, which makes for much easier looks around the rim.
Not to be too harsh, but Mullens doesn't bring much to the table outside of his shooting and floor-spacing abilities. He's a big body, but he plays too soft, limiting his effectiveness on the glass and the defensive end of the court.
In fact, the only other positive aspect of his presence on the Clippers bench is something he doesn't take away from the table.
Mullens is a smart player, one who rarely turns the ball over. You can be confident playing him against an aggressive defense simply because he won't cough up the rock and allow transition points.
The big man averaged 1.4 turnovers per game in 2012-13, which was actually the highest mark of his career. However, he kept his ridiculously low turnover percentage, courtesy of an increase in playing time and responsibility.
Mullens' 10.9 turnover percentage will help out the Clippers, who were a bit more turnover prone than they would have liked last year. As a whole, the team posted a 13.9 turnover percentage, good for No. 18 in the league.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the Clippers bench averaged 6.2 cough-ups per game, which was a mark better than only the one posted by the Utah Jazz. It wasn't the starting lineup that was having trouble with handling the rock, but rather the bench.
This is another one of those areas that tend to get undervalued. We notice turnovers, but—simply because it's harder to count—we ignore the players who don't turn it over.
Mullens might not be the most glamorous player in the NBA. Nor is he the most valuable.
However, he will make a noticeable impact on the success of the L.A. bench. You just have to keep your eyes peeled and actually look for it.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference, and all screenshots come from NBA.com's video archives.
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