2013-2014 Clippers Player Previews: Byron Mullens

Can Byron Mullens be the third member of the Clippers big man rotation this season? - Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 13 players with guaranteed contracts with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Next up, new backup big Byron Mullens.

Byron Mullens key stats:

PPG RPG Pp36 Rp36 FG% 3pt%
12-13 10.6 6.4 14.2 8.5 38.5 31.7
Career 8.4 4.8 14.4 8.3 40.3 30.1

Wow.  Yikes.  I mean, I knew those stats were there, but it still hurts to see them.  The 14/8.5 per 36 is actually decent... not great but passable at least.  But he is 7 feet tall and he makes less than 40% of his shots from the field.  A huge part of the problem is his tendency to chuck up threes (over a third of his attempted shots last year were from deep, almost 4 attempts a game) without making a passable percentage of them.

If there's a player in the league who shoots more threes than Mullens while making a lower percentage of them, I'd like to know who he is.  But yet, that's why Mullens is here.  He's a Clipper because Doc wants him to take that shot, and Doc wants him to stretch the floor.  Mullens has shot 8-26 from deep in three pre-season games so far as a Clipper.  Granted, that's a remarkably small sample size, but 30.7% from deep is hardly inspiring- in fact, it's detrimental to team success.

It's a tough situation for Mullens.  He certainly wants to take those threes, and he's not completely inept at shooting (for example, I doubt that DeAndre Jordan would be able to make over 30% if he shot all of Mullens' threes).  On top of that, Doc Rivers is telling him to shoot.  AND, because his shot is so ineffective, other defenses WANT BJ to be taking these shots.  Think about it.  If the Clippers were playing a team with a 7' center who shot 30% from deep but took the shot every time he was open, wouldn't you want them to let him shoot?

This combination of factors is what leads to the crazy stat lines that we've seen so far (1-7, 3-7, 4-12 from deep in each of the three games).  Those are remarkably high numbers of three pointers attempted for one game.  If Mullens was a 35% shooter, other teams would respect his shot more, and he'd get less looks.  But his only options right now are to either shoot a low percentage on a ton of shots a night, or pass up shots that his coach wants him to take- both are very effective methods towards landing himself a seat on the bench.

The issue of Mullens' shooting is compounded by the fact that he really doesn't do a whole lot else well on the basketball court.  He isn't a strong banger, he doesn't rebound particularly well, and watching him replace DeAndre Jordan defensively is like watching Shaq run the 100M in place of Usain Bolt- he's not just a step or half-step slower to react, he's a full 2 or 3 steps slower.  While Byron is a better rebounder, defender, and finisher than Steve, he's almost Steve Novak minus the shooting.  Which is, you know, nothing.

So where does this guy fit in to the rotation?  It all depends.  Like I conceded above, 26 threes is a VERY small sample size by which to judge a shooter, and it's certainly not anywhere near time to give up on Mullens as a potential rotation player.  If he can shoot about 34% from three this season, then he's probably worth it as long as he limits his attempts to less than 12 a game and fights hard on defense and on the glass.  If he can get that shot up to 35% or 36% then all the better, but I'm not counting on that.  So, how can Mullens improve his shooting?  The obvious answer is to practice his shooting and work on mechanics and just be a little less like himself and a little more like Ray Allen.  However, if there was some magical practice formula guaranteed to raise a players' shooting percentage, everyone would be doing it.  The real way that Mullens is likely to raise his shooting percentage is through raising his shot quality, which I'll split up into three parts: shot location, shot selection, and shot type.

  • Shot Location: This one is something that I've seen readers clamoring for in the comments.  Shooters tend to do better from the corner, which makes sense- those shots aren't from as far away as the rest of the three point shots.  BJ just has to find his sweet spots.  Maybe he struggles with the straight away three but hits a higher percentage from the left wing. This heat graph, taken from Mullens' basketball-reference.com page, suggests what one would suspect: Mullens scores way more points per shot from the corners than anywhere else. Byron_mullens_heat_graph_medium
  • Shot Selection: This has to do with how tough of a shot he's taking, which I haven't really had an issue with from what I've seen of pre-season action, but I know what supposedly an issue with his play in Charlotte.  How contested are his shots?  Jamal Crawford tends to have horrible shot selection, but he's simply talented and able to make tough shots.  If he didn't make those shots... he wouldn't be as well liked to say the least.  Mullens seems to be taking threes when he's wide open (which is no coincidence- defenses are leaving him), so his shot selection would seem to have improved from last season.
  • Shot Type: Again, this is off of a very small sample size, but I feel like Mullens has been taking almost all of his threes so far on pick-and-pop.  Most of these pick-and-pop shots come from the wings and straightaway (it's unusual for there to be a ball screen in the dead corner).  So perhaps by limiting himself to less shots off of pops while continuing to catch and shoot on kick outs, he can raise his percentage.  The difference here is that on a pick and pop, most players are moving either backwards or sideways into their shots (they shouldn't- they should be getting depth and stepping into their shots- but they do).  This is a sharp contrast to taking a one-two or hop-step into a shot off of a kick out.

Now it's hard to identify which of these is the problem (if not all).  Does Byron shoot better from the corner because he gets more kick outs there and less pick-and-pop, or is it because the corners are just closer and he really shoots better on pops than kick outs?  This isn't something that's easily answered off of the very limited shots that we get to see him take in games; rather, it's something that Doc has to notice a trend in during the thousands of reps that BJ is hopefully taking in practice.

Regardless of how the backup big situation sorts itself out, the Clippers will likely be forced to rely on Mullens for meaningful minutes in regular season games, especially at the beginning of the year.  So let's not simply condemn BJ as the next Brian Cook- instead, have faith that, in conjunction with Doc, he'll be able to diagnose and correct his issues in order to raise his shooting percentage and be the stretch big that the Clippers have so desperately needed.
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