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What the Return of Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas Means for the Bobcats

Bobcats forwards Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas have been upgraded to gametime decisions for Saturday's game against the Houston Rockets. Now, the Bobcats just have to sort out the rotation. Again.

Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien has earned the right to fight for his place in the Bobcats' frontcourt rotation considering his play after filling in for injured players.
Bobcats forward Jeff Adrien has earned the right to fight for his place in the Bobcats' frontcourt rotation considering his play after filling in for injured players.

Friday the Bobcats' PR staff tweeted that Bobcats forwards Byron Mullens and Tyrus Thomas had been upgraded to a gametime decision for Saturday's game against Houston. Mullens has missed the last five weeks with a severe ankle sprain, and Tyrus has dealt with multiple leg injuries since November. Their return is mostly good news because the Bobcats need help, especially in the frontcourt. Further, having more options in general never hurt anybody. This may not solve their issues at their positions, but the return of Mullens and Tyrus will present the team with a good chance to evaluate the returning players against the players they brought in to fill the void (Jeff Adrien and Hakim Warrick) to see who benefits the team the most.

My biggest issue with the frontcourt is the fact that they have more defensive-type players in Brendan Haywood and Bismack Biyombo and offensive-type players like Mullens and Thomas. This is of course problematic because this isn't like, say, hockey, where you can make substitutions on the fly for a certain minded player. For the Bobcats, that's often meant sacrificing offensive dimension by taking out Mullens for more rebounding and defensive ability. Or at least as much dimension and defense the Bobcats have to offer. Now, the Bobcats haven't found the ideal well-rounded big man they need, but it's likely that the play of Adrien and Warrick have at least made them think about their rotations and roster.

First off, replacing Tyrus' terrible 29.1% shooting, 4.4 ppg, and 2.9 rpg wasn't exactly difficult. If you look at the numbers, the only worse offensive player than Tyrus this season has been Gana Diop by a hair, but at least Diop will give you a few more rebounds. Enter Jeff Adrien. In almost the exact same minutes and games, Adrien has proven to be a more efficient (46.1 FG%), better rebounding (His 16.5% Total Rebounding Percentage is number one on the team over Biyombo by a full point), and lower-usage player than Thomas. Since the Bobcats likely already know what they have in Thomas, and both players are 26 years old, it seems sensible to not cut into Adrien's minutes. However, with two years and $18 million left on his deal, in addition to the $8 million Thomas is taking home this season, it may not be easy to have that much money as a DNP-CD every night. I wouldn't go as far as calling Adrien "savior" by any means, but I think "upgrade" is apt in this case.

As for Mullens, don't expect to see too much of him right away, which may actually be good for Tyrus, considering the persistent nature of ankle sprains. If you've had a sprain yourself, you know that it takes about two months or eight weeks for it to truly feel sturdy again. I never thought I'd say this, but I found myself watching Bobcats games recently and wishing to see Mullens hoisting three pointer after three pointer for one reason: he stretches out the defense. Now, at 30% Mullens is not an elite shooter, but even at that number you may not feel like leaving him open too often. Is it annoying on the nights when his shot isn't falling? Absolutely. But so is trying to run the offense through Haywood or Biyombo. Additionally, if Mullens gets the ball up top and successfully draws his defender from the paint, he's created driving lanes for MKG or one of the guards to get to the basket and has the option to pass them on the cut.

Wait-- what about Hakim Warrick?

Well, what about Hakim Warrick? He's 30 years old on a rebuilding team. He's slightly better than Tyrus, but his production still leaves much to be desired. If he even takes minutes from Tyrus, it's probably time to amnesty Tyrus, because that would clearly be an indictment on Tyrus at this point.

Ideally, Byron Mullens returns to give the Bobcats at least the illusion of a multi-dimensional offense that also removes the onus from the backcourt, and actually could make their lives easier. And behind Mullens, Biyombo, and Adrien, Tyrus Thomas provides at least another body at Mike Dunlap's disposal. The return of Mullens and Thomas may not solve all of their frontcourt problems, but they are more capable of putting a more competitive team on the court combined with the players they've been using.