Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
A few days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to terms on a second max extension for a member of their core. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both locked up until 2016, the Thunder have made themselves the prime example for any team looking to build a team through the draft. Of the nine players on their roster averaging over 15 minutes per game, five of them were drafted by the organization. Of their five crunchtime guys, only Kendrick Perkins was not acquired via the draft.
It is really incredible how well Thunder general manager Sam Presti and his staff have been at evaluating young talent. Few teams hit the jackpot on their draft picks more than twice in an entire decade but the Thunder ended up drafting an all-star caliber player in three straight seasons with Durant in 2007, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008 and James Harden in 2009. Even when the Thunder don’t get to trade a young player they like, they’ve done a great job acquiring them. Oklahoma City was able to acquire the quintessential back-up point guard in Eric Maynor from the Utah Jazz for the rights to Peter Fehse (I’ve never heard of him either) and their top perimeter stopper Thabo Sefolosha from the Chicago Bulls (can you imagine if Thibs had him, too) for nothing, as their 2009 first round draft pick was protected.
Oklahoma City’s nearly infallible success rate when it comes to acquiring young talent only has two blemishes since 2007:
1) Trading Walter Sharpe and Trent Plaisted for D.J. White on draft day in 2008.
2) Trading Rodrigue Beaubois for Byron Mullens on draft day in 2009.
The White trade isn’t so bad on the surface, as Sharpe and Plaisted weren’t useful players anyways. The Mullens trade looks a bit worse in retrospect, as Beaubois has flashed potential to be a decent scoring point guard, though with a guard rotation of Westbrook, Harden, Daequan Cook and Reggie Jackson (normally Eric Maynor), there isn’t really a spot for Roddy B.
Those trades never panned out for the Thunder and while it hasn’t affected the current Thunder group one bit (they’re the best team in the league right now), it is interesting that White and Mullens never found a consistent role in OKC, because seemingly everybody else has. White only played 42 games for the Thunder in his three years with the organization and Mullens only played 26 games during his two seasons with the team.
The Thunder ended up dealing both Mullens and White to the Charlotte Bobcats in separate deals. White was sent to the Bobcats last season in exchange for Nazr Mohammed and Charlotte acquired Mullens for a second round pick before this season began. With Charlotte opening up the season with a lot of holes on their roster, both Mullens and White were finally given their first consistent roles on an NBA team. And so far, they’ve made the most of it.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
17 games into the season, both White and Mullens have started seven games at their respective positions and they are both averaging over 23 minutes per game. Both players have come into their own on the offensive end and have shown some skills that they didn’t put on display while they were with the Thunder.
The seven foot Mullens hasn’t spent a lot of his time around the basket which is evident by his miniscule rebound rate of 12.7 (48th among NBA centers) but he’s made up for that by stretching the floor for a Bobcat team that struggles to score. For someone with his size and skill level, you’d expect him to be a rather effective post-up player but instead he’s been spending more of his time spotting up. Mullens is attempting 5.5 shots per game from 16-23 feet, a pretty high number for someone who is on the floor for just 23 minutes a night, but he’s making them at an above average rate of 43%.
Mullens has transformed his game a bit since his college days in order stick around in the league. Mullens posted up 35% of the time during his only year at Ohio State while spotting up just 5.3% of the time. This season Mullens is spotting up on 18.5% of his possession while posting up just 14.2% of the time.
White has also started to expand his game to become a more perimeter orientated big, which isn’t great considering Mullens also plays away from the basket. The combination of Mullens and White (54th in rebound rate among power forwards) leaves the Bobcats with nobody to rebound, so it’s not surprising that the two have spent very little time on the court together this season. That said, with Boris Diaw being a stretch big as well and Tyrus Thomas producing a single digit rebound rate, Charlotte ranks as the sixth worst rebounding team in basketball.
But like Mullens, White has done enough in the other areas of the game to keep getting minutes. White is shooting 61% on spot-up jumpshots this season and his hitting 48% of his shots from 16-23 feet (on over three attempts per night from that range). White has also been good in the mid-post area and in the post. He’s scoring a point per possession on post-ups this season, which rates out as “very good” according to Synergy Sports Technology. His overall offensive output of 1.03 points per possession puts him in the 87th percentile and is categorized as “excellent.”
White and Mullens still have their detractors – like rebounding and defense – but they’ve been efficient offensive players this season and have been helping out an anemic offense with their shot making. They may not be long term solutions for the Bobcats – stylistically, their games don’t mesh well with one another’s – but because Oklahoma City dealt them to a Bobcats rather than having them rot in the D-League, these guys are finally getting their chance to prove themselves. And it’s nice to see them do just that.
Photo Credits: Darrell Walker/Icon SMI and Chris Keane/Icon SMI