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Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens lead Bobcats’ youth movement

When you’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a month left in the season, there’s no downside to taking the long view, right?

Charlotte Bobcats coach Paul Silas plans to lean toward youth in his rotation in the remaining 16 games. That started Saturday against the Detroit Pistons, when Silas started power forward Byron Mullens and swingman Reggie Williams. It will continue tonight in Toronto, when Silas plans to start rookie Kemba Walker at point guard.

This is partially about exploring options and partially about injuries. Small forward Corey Maggette is out at least a week with an Achilles tendon injury, opening a spot for Williams. Walker’s rise is partially about tendinitis in D.J. Augustin’s right knee.

Augustin hasn’t missed games and played well against the Pistons with 16 points and 10 assists. However, he sat out the past three practices, so Silas wants to reduce his wear-and-tear, while seeing more of Walker.

“We still want to win games,” Silas said at practice Monday. “But we’ve got to find out what these kids are about. If we were going for a playoff berth, then absolutely you’d want the veteran players in there. But we’re not, so we want these guys to play and see how they react.”

Mullens replaced Tyrus Thomas as a starter, and responded with 20 points, nine rebounds and two blocks against the Pistons. Mullens has bounced between center and power forward this season, after the Bobcats acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the preseason.

Mullens is technically a third-year pro, but he totaled just 139 minutes over 26 game appearances with the Thunder. He calls this his rookie season, as far as actually learning what’s expected.

“I’m learning a lot, like pick-and-roll defense and whether to go for a blocked shot or block my man out for a rebound,” Mullens said.

“You really can’t practice anything except shooting (by yourself) and even with that, there’s nothing like game-time (conditions). It’s not the same when you don’t have people running out trying to block you.”

Part of the transition for 7-footer Mullens was the coaches figuring out whether he’s a center or a power forward. Silas ultimately decided he’s a “stretch-4:” A power forward with the shooting range to spread defenses. That makes him similar to Andrea Bargnani, the Toronto Raptor he’ll likely guard tonight.

Silas loves Mullens’ shooting range, but he doesn’t want Mullens constantly defaulting to that skill. Silas believes Mullens is a better low-post scorer than he displays, and that’s something Silas wants to explore the rest of the season.

“He’s got great moves around the basket – great hooks off both hands,” Silas said. “Right now he’s always fading away on the jumper. Go to the middle and shoot your hook.”

Everything about Mullens is still in the discovery stage, which makes an international opportunity this summer so intriguing. Since Mullens’ mother is British, he’s eligible to try out for their national team, which has an automatic bid to the Olympics as the host country. The British tryout camp convenes in June in Houston.

“That would be great,” Silas said of Mullens playing in the Olympics. “He needs experience, and that’s certainly a plus.”

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