The Key to Warriors: Chris Mullin
What impresses me the most about Mullin is that he isn’t afraid to buck conventional wisdom.
When he signed Mike Montgomery as his coach, many observers (including me) thought it would be difficult for Montgomery to replicate his collegiate success. Montgomery did struggle in the first half of last season while learning to cope with the pro game, not just on the court but the travel and lack of practice time. When he got his bearings, his natural coaching ability took over.
When Mullin made the February trade for Davis, many thought it was a big gamble, because of Davis’s injury history and his poor play in New Orleans. But Davis ignited the Warriors when he came here, and in retrospect, that trade, in which the Warriors gave up only Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis was a steal.
It’s not all Mullin, of course. He talks over every trade/draft decision with Montgomery and his former teammates, Rod Higgins, now the general manager, and special assistant Mitch Richmond. “You always want to have as much information as you can get,” he said, “and I listen closely to Rod, Mitch and Mike. But in the end, one person has to make the decision.”
Both of Mullin's first-round draft picks, Andris Biedrins (who is still the youngest player on the roster) and Ike Diogu were surprises.
Mullin had scouted Biedrens in his native Latvia and drafted him on potential. “He had the size and he had quick feet and hands,” said Mullin in a conversation in his office yesterday. “He isn’t a typical European player because he’s physical inside. He’s a good athlete, and I think he’ll continue to improve.”
In his limited minutes, Biedrins has played good defense and rebounded well. He has no shot, which doesn’t bother Mullin. “We don’t want him to shoot,” laughed Chris. “We’ve got plenty of guys to do that.” Biedrens, though, has an instinct for getting to the ball, and I think he’ll be a decent scorer just on loose balls he grabs and puts back up.
Diogu was a proven collegiate player, leading the Pac-10 in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots, but he was down-rated in pre-draft speculations because he was thought to be undersized at 6-8 for an inside player in the NBA.
“You always wonder if that collegiate success will translate to the NBA,” Mullin said, “but I had seen him in matchups against pro players and he did fine.”
In any sport, there are players who do more than you’d expect from their physical dimensions, because they just know how to make plays. In the NBA, Charles Barkley is the best example of an undersized player who became a star. Diogu is not likely to reach that level, but he plays bigger than he is, partially because of incredibly long arms. He has a lot to learn about the Warriors’ offensive system, but he’s already shown he can be an effective scorer and rebounder. He complements Troy Murphy perfectly, because Murphy can go outside and shoot 3s while Diogu is roaming the middle.
WHEN MULLIN was a star player for the Warriors, he never envisioned that he would wind up in the front office. “I’ve never been one to look ahead that way,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can at what I’m doing.”
His best was very good, of course. He went from being an All-American at St. John’s to being an All-Star in the NBA.There were some early bumps in the road, starting with the fact that he had to relocate from the New York area to the Bay Area.
“I grew up in Brooklyn,” he said, “and there were people who lived in the same house for generations. Like, you’d look down the street and say, ‘That’s the Sullivan house.’ You might not know whether it was Mike or Jerry who was living in the house, but you knew it was a Sullivan.”
Obviously, it was quite different for Mullin in the Bay Area, where more than half the people come from somewhere else, but he’s adjusted well. He and his wife, Liz, live in Danville with their four children, all of whom have been born in a San Ramon hospital. “They’re Californians, not New Yorkers,” said Mullin. “We go back for a month in the summer to visit family – my wife is from New York, too – and it takes a month to see everybody. But our home is here.”
He had his moments of wishing he were still in New York early in his pro career, but when the moment came when he could make that come true, he stayed with the Warriors. “I think it was after my fourth year,” he said. “I could have played out that year and been a free agent, so I could go back to New York, but I knew I wanted to stay with the Warriors, so I signed a new contract.”
Mullin was not fast and couldn’t jump, but he was a smart player, knowing how to move without the ball and how to utilize screens to get his shot, and he was an incredible shooter. I remember watching him in practice one day as he shot from different spots on the floor. He hit 17 in a row from one spot, behind the 3-point line. “I was always a good shooter,” he said. “I remember when I was 11 or 12, I won a free throw shooting contest, with 23 of 25.”
For his career, he averaged 50.9 from the floor, with a high of .553 in his final season as a Warrior. He was an incredibly consistent scorer, too, with five consecutive seasons in mid-career in which he averaged between 25.1 and 26.5 points a game.
When his career ended, he took a year to decide what he wanted to do next. “I knew it would be something related to basketball, but I didn’t want to go into coaching because I didn’t think it would be fair to my family to get back on that travel schedule.”
Instead, he worked for a couple of years in the Warriors front office, learning the business side of the operation as well as the basketball side, and then moved into his current role.
THE WARRIORS’ record, which puts them on top of the Western Division, is somewhat illusory because the schedule so far has been relatively weak. It will get much tougher this month, and Mullin is making no predictions about the season.
Still, it’s an intriguing team In one respect, depth, it’s similar to the one NBA champion the Warriors have had, the 1974-75 team when coach Al Attles rotated 10 players in and out of the lineup, with Rick Barry as the one constant. Davis is the constant for this team, but Montgomery has the flexibility to play different lineups, depending on the matchups he gets with other teams.
Most of all, though, it’s nice to know that the Warriors have a good decision-maker in the front office. Whatever happens for the rest of the season, we know that the future looks bright.
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