If you were 7’2″ and 260 lbs, what sport would you likely play? NASCAR? Golf? And within that sport, what position do you reckon you’d be slotted at? Hint: It doesn’t start with a “G” or an “F” and it rhymes with “renter.” It doesn’t take Jack Ramsey to figure this stuff out.
But don’t tell Byron Mullens this. He said last week in Orlando that he’s no center. He’s a power forward. And I guess I believe him. Because that’s sure how he plays.
We’ve seen Mullens in a total of seven professional games and I can remember only two post moves – one an airballed hook shot and the other a step-back jumper from the block. Out of 53 shot attempts, just two post moves from a 7’2″ guy. Two post moves. For someone that is 86 inches tall. That makes about as much sense as Christian Bale still using his Batman voice when he was talking to Lucius.
But don’t just blame B.J. Byron Nelson James Mullens. Because by all appearances the true center is dying, one seven-footer at a time or as Clark Matthews put it in an email, “The center position should be on the endangered species list next to albino otters.” It’s a basketball epidemic. Or I guess maybe it’s just an evolution in the game. Who knows? We’re seeing more and more Amare’s, Mehmet Okur’s and David Lee’s and less Shaq’s, Al Jefferson’s and Yao Ming’s. Heck, look at guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Nenad Krstic. They’re seven-feet tall but they prefer the pick and pop instead of the post and score.
In Mullens’ defense, he is uniquely gifted for a guy that size. He has nice touch on his jumper and he’s absurdly athletic for his size. He’s not some stiff that just takes up space. He really has the skills of a jumpshooting power forward. But combine that with at least a mediocre post game and match him up against slower, less athletic guys of similar size and wouldn’t he be a matchup nightmare? Well, that’s just what common sense says.
I understand the idea of being versatile and developing a unique skillset for your size. Some guys can pull that off and it makes them an absolutely dynamic player (see: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki). But what I don’t understand is spoiling your God-gifted talent by ignoring one aspect of your game because you think you’re something you’re not.
Any basketball coach would agree that the toughest offensive move to defend is the hook shot, whether it be Kareem’s sky version or a little baby hook. But it’s the one shot that creates distance between you and the defender, and because of your body separating the defender from the ball and forming a shield, it’s virtually unblockable. It’s by no means an easy shot to perfect, but that’s the point – too many guys want to dunk and take jumpshots. Too few want to get on the blocks and learn post moves. Maybe you won’t get on SportsCenter with a nice up-and-under or a little baby hook, but if you put the ball in the basket, you’ll get in the box score. And that’s what matters.
Think of it this way: If a pitcher has a 97 MPH heater and a wicked breaking ball, what would you say if he decided he’d be just a knuckleballer? That he’s a knucklehead? Or what if a football player were 6’6″, 320 pounds but thought he was a safety? I think most coaches would either show him to the bench or hand him a diet plan. Maybe that pitcher loves tossing knuckleballs, but I think in the end he’d rather get people out and actually be on the field than do what he wants. So if guys like Mullens just want to take finesse jumpers, bully for you. Have fun talking to that Gatorade jug for 48 minutes.
So what’s the deal? Why do guys of Mullens’ size continue to work on their jumpshot instead of a quality post-up game? Why? WHY?!?! You have the size to dominate a position, and all you need is the refined skill. But instead, you choose to stand 15 feet from the basket rather than five. Instead of taking complete advantage of the seven feet, two inches that is your body, you play the same game a 6’8″ guy does. I just face palmed myself so hard, I got a concussion.
Look at a few of the all-time greatest seven-footers:
Hakeem Olajuwon – If there was anyone for Mullens to watch tape on, it’s The Dream. Mullens has a similar stroke and the ability to hit a baseline jumper. But what made Hakeem GREAT and not just some ho-hum power forward was his ability to get position on the blocks and score from inside as well.
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar - The Sky Hook people. The Sky Hook. Absolutely impossible to defend, almost as hard to learn. The thing about a hook shot is while it’s one of the best offensive moves in basketball, it’s also insanely hard to do. Instead of having a dominant shooting hand and an off-hand to balance and control the ball as in a normal shot, you’re isolating the ball to one hand. It’s hard to control and balance. But just because something’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on it. Kareem’s 38,387 points agree with me.
Shaquille O’Neal – He dominated because he was bigger than everyone, but he wouldn’t have done it without his incredible footwork and soft touch. Imagine Shaq standing at the top of the key calling for the ball and then fading away on a jumper.
David Robinson – He could score from the elbow and on the block. Notice that, he could do both.
Not to mention Wilt Chamberlain or Patrick Ewing. What if these guys had settled for jumpshots and foregone the work to develop in the post? What if they had said, “Nah, you got me all wrong. I’m a power forward you see.” I’m trying to think of great seven-foot power forwards and I’ve got nothing besides Dirk who is always the exception (and he’s really a small forward anyway). Oh, oh, here’s one: Yi Jianlian. Pretty good company there, eh Byron?
Guys are more athletic than ever and versatile big men are more valuable than a stiff that stands on the block. That is definitely an evolution in the game and I get that. You don’t want the one-dimensional guy that has to be under the basket to score. But for some reason, players have taken that as a free pass to forget developing post moves and instead work on between-the-legs dunks and 22-foot jumpers. It’s like guys don’t want to play center because they think they won’t get to run the floor and shoot jumpers ever again. And as a result, great talent is wasted.
There’s a place for slick shooting big men. It’s unique for a guy that hits his head on routine door frames to have the touch of a guard. But what’s lost is the ability to score from the inside. Krstic attempted 68 percent jump shots last year and hit 42 percent of them. He took 32 percent inside shots and hit 58 percent. You do the math. Wait, I guess I just did. (For comparison, Yao attempted 40 percent jumpers and 60 percent inside shots last season. Al Jefferson was a good balance of 49-51. Shaq attempted 72 percent from inside. And as of right now, by my estimate, Byron Mullens has taken probably 75 percent jumpers and the remaining 25 percent is just from put-backs and dunks.)
If guys like Mullens want to be jumpshooting power forward, then join the party. The line forms behind the other 200 guys and you’re not likely to move up very far. Yi Jianlian is saving you a spot. But get yourself a post move or two, some muscle to get better position on the block and the desire to develop your skills and you could be at the front of the line. Not too many guys out there are 7-foot-2. But go ahead, keep telling everybody you’re a power forward. Hopefully Scott Brooks doesn’t listen to you.