CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Byron Mullens is proving he can be a consistent scorer in the NBA.
Now the Bobcats 7-foot center is looking to take other aspects of his game to the next level when Charlotte opens the second half of the NBA season Tuesday night at the Orlando Magic.
"I just have to show the league and our organization that I can rebound," Mullens said.
The fourth-year NBA pro averaged 17.8 points per game — five points above his season average — in the six games leading up to the All-Star break.
Even more encouraging for coach Mike Dunlap is Mullens' increased production on the boards, averaging 8.6 rebounds per game during that stretch. That was highlighted by a 25-point, 18-rebound performance in a win last week against the Boston Celtics.
The solid six-game stretch for Mullens comes after missing 19 games with a foot injury.
He admits being the beneficiary of "fresh legs" when other NBA players were beginning to tire before the All-Star game.
But he's also feeling more comfortable in his second season of full action. He sat for two years in Oklahoma City, rarely seeing the floor before being traded last season for a second-round draft pick.
It's turned out to be a solid trade for the Bobcats.
"I've come a long way," Mullens said. "I had that first year under my belt playing last year. I've been in the league four years now but last year was like my first year so I just got my feet wet."
Mullens is far from a finished product.
Dunlap would like to see more consistency from him on the boards. In the games before and after his huge game against the Celtics, Mullens had just three rebounds each.
On offense Mullens does most of his work 20 to 25 feet from the basket, showing a smooth, soft touch for a 7-footer from the outside. But the Bobcats want to teach him to play with his back to the basket because they don't have a dominant low post threat.
"Sometimes it's a little frustrating to watch Byron play because he maybe gives way to the 3-pointer too much," Dunlap said. "But we're walking him into the post more and saying, 'You'll get more touches but you have to love with your back to the basket more for us.'
"I think he's buying into that. The thing that is remarkable is he's getting his nose in there in traffic and taking (rebounds) off the top of the rim. Those are substantial rebounds and he's doing it over and over again."
It's not uncommon to see Dunlap barking at Mullens during a practice, a timeout or even after the game.
Dunlap said it's a relationship built on trust and he's been able to point out Mullens' shortcomings without any bitterness coming back his way.
"I'm able to tell him things he doesn't want to hear," Dunlap said.
Said Mullens: "Yeah, we have a certain way of talking to each other. People from the outside might see that and think we are getting into it. You know, it's all love. He gives me a lot of confidence out there on the court to do what I want to do so that goes a long way. You know when you have a green light you can hit big shots and have a big night. It's nice."
Earlier this month, Charlotte president of basketball operations Rod Higgins said "adding some bigs" remains a pressing necessity for the Bobcats, who had the worst record in the league entering the All-Star break.
The Bobcats have had conversations with Brooklyn Nets about acquiring Kris Humphries in exchange for Ben Gordon, but no deal is imminent.
The team likes Bismack Biyombo, although he's a much better defensive player than an offensive one. Brendan Haywood, Hakim Warrick, Tyrus Thomas, Jeff Adrian and Gana Diop are Charlotte's other "bigs," and none of them are averaging more than seven points a game.
That's one of the reasons the Bobcats consider Mullens a core players they must keep.
Ideally the Bobcats would like to add a true low post scoring threat, a move that would allow Mullens more freedom to step out and knock down 3-pointers. But those players are hard to find.
Regardless, the Bobcats believe Mullens' huge performance against the Celtics last week was more of a sign of things to come rather than an aberration.
"We need that from Byron," point guard Kemba Walker said. "He can do it. We have to get him to do it every night. He's very capable of it. When he has big games like that it gives us a much better chance."
For Mullens though, the focus moving forward is on becoming a rebounding force.
"The 18 rebounds, I would rather have that than 25 points," he said. "That's because (rebounding) is not what I'm known for. I just have to show I can rebound consistently."