ORLANDO, Fla. — A prominent Eastern Conference coach was casually chatting with two scouts from rival teams at this week's AirTran Airways Pro Summer League. Somehow, the free-flowing, candid conversation found a focus and settled on the subject of player development.
The coach made an example of Thunder center Byron Mullens.
"Look at how much better he's gotten after just one year," started the chatty coach. "He couldn't do (expletive) last year. But with a guy like him, you can see how much one year makes a difference."
If you saw Mullens perform in Orlando this week, you had no choice but to come away impressed. The 7-foot-1 project out of Ohio State turned heads all week before sitting out Friday's finale against Indiana. Mullens finished second on the team in scoring with a 16-point average and led the team in rebounding at 6.3 per contest.
And suddenly, Mullens looks ready to become an NBA player.
"Last year when I played here, I think I had one good game," Mullens recalled. "But this whole week has been good to me."
Good enough that the whispers of "We could have had Roddy Beaubois" from Thunder fans might finally cease this season.
Mullens displayed all-around improvement throughout his four-game stint. He committed himself to the gym and the weight room since the end of the season, and it showed from the start. Mullens arrived in Orlando with 15 more pounds of muscle and couldn't wait to throw around his weight.
Instead of camping out on the perimeter and settling for mid-range jump shots, Mullens flaunted his footwork in the post. He played with his back to the basket and finished several plays with jump hooks or dunks. When he didn't finish, he got fouled and earned a trip to the free throw line. Mullens attempted 33 free throws, second most behind James Harden.