Tonight will be a monumental night in the D-League: The second overall pick in the 2009 NBA NBA Draft, Hasheem Thabeet, will be in Tulsa to do battle with the 20th overall pick in the same draft, Byron Mullens.
Both players have been described as busts since they've been sent to the D-League so early in their professional careers, but I'm of the opinion that it's a bit too early to describe them as such: Thabeet's only been playing basketball for eight years and Mullens is barely 21 years old. While they're not great right now, both have the attributes to improve - with some work.
Even though they're both extremely raw, their deficiencies come at the opposite ends of the floor: Mullens has good scoring instincts on the offensive end - even though he hasn't quite been able to put them to use - while Thabeet's defensive presence is outstanding, though he lacks any real ability on offense. The one trait I see them both having in common is focus - more specifically, and ultimately unfortunately, a lack of focus.
This should make for an ugly, albeit intriguingly even match-up that will be available for free on Futurecast beginning at 7pm Central Time.
Thabeet, even though he's averaging an impressive 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds, hasn't looked all that impressive (also here) in D-League play thus far. He's looked awesome on helpside defense, which is where nearly all 14 of his blocks have come from and has been able to finish the easy buckets (offensive putbacks and assisted dunks and alley-oops), but he's been surprisingly underwhelming elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see if he plays harder against a fellow NBA bigman than he has against his D-League opponents. The only time he's really looked like an NBA player was against Fort Wayne's Jared Reiner, who is also the only player he's matched up against that has an NBA resume.
Mullens is coming off of a six point, four rebound, three foul effort againstlast night. As a first round pick, this probably isn't what Oklahoma City wanted to see. As long as he's on the court, however, I think he's probably improving, especially if he's able to play against NBA-caliber competition. Whether he's dominating or getting dominated, he should be able to learn from it, and ultimately that's why he's in the D-League: to learn. This is also a good match-up for him in that if he looks bad, it can be justified by saying "well, that's why he was drafted 18 spots ahead of Thabeet." If Mullens gets the better of Thabeet, though, Mullens should come out of the game with added confidence, something it seems he's sorely lacking.
This game will also include an interesting match-up between Oklahoma City's Kyle Weaver and the Memphis' Lester Hudson. While that could be the story of the game, I think the overall sexiness of two first round picks will probably grab more headlines.
Last, but not least, since I'm feeling a bit frisky today (blame it on the fact that I'll be covering the North Dakota West Region Tournament's loser-out games for the rest of the day - two girl's games, one boy's game), I'm even going to give you some predictions!
Thabeet: 29 minutes, 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks - foul trouble
Mullens: 34 minutes, 16 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block - worse FG% than Thabeet
What say you?