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Mychal Mulder should be John Calipari’s new rotation staple

When he’s on the floor, Mychal Mulder has been really good for the ‘Cats.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day
Mulder is shooting over 43 percent from 3-point range this season.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Mychal Mulder’s first nine games this season have been weirder than a Dr. Seuss story.

In the first three games of the season against Stephen F. Austin, Canisius and Michigan State in New York, Mulder played a grand total of 12 minutes.

Over the next four games, Mulder played 68 minutes and put up double figures in three of those four games, including 12 points on five shot attempts (all 3-pointers) in the blowout win over UT-Martin.

But, for some reason, Mulder logged a DNP (coaches decision) in the biggest game of the season so far for Kentucky; a 97-92 loss to the UCLA Bruins.

Mulder returned to action against Valparaiso on Wednesday night, scoring nine points and grabbing seven rebounds in the 24-point victory for the ‘Cats.

“If Isaiah’s on the bench and I’m in the game, if I do something that frustrates Cal, I see Isaiah go, ‘No, no, let him go. Let him make up for it,’ ” Mulder said, via Kyle Tucker of SECCountry.com.

“He’s close enough with him that he can say, ‘Don’t worry, he’s good.’ ”

Tucker also noted in a separate piece after the Valpo game that Calipari shared with the media after Wednesday’s win that he wants his players to hustle more and make the extra plays even if they’re not hitting shots. (Mulder shot just 4-of-10 from the field and missed four of five 3-pointers, but still played 16 minutes in the win.)

“Because Isaiah makes Mychal more comfortable,” Calipari said on Mulder, via Tucker.

“And Isaiah figures out ways of getting him shots he can make. And Isaiah will talk to him through defense and help him. He just makes him more comfortable on the court. So as we sub, when Isaiah comes out, the next time he goes back in, I’ll usually put Mike with him.”

Isaiah Briscoe sees it, but will Calipari see that Mychal Mulder cannot have any more DNP-CD games for the rest of the season?

Mychal Mulder should be playing more because he makes Kentucky even better

In eight appearances for Kentucky this season, Mulder has averaged 4.6 attempts from 3-point range in 12 minutes per contest. Mulder is hitting two threes on average, which comes out to a 43.2 percent clip. That’s good.

When Mulder is stepping into 3-pointers like this one against UT-Martin (who was playing a 2-3 zone), it brings a dynamic that can bring the ‘Cats even more dangerous.

The clip above is a little extended (thanks to the stellar pressure of De’Aaron Fox), but once again, Mulder shoots over the top of a 2-3 zone and drains a triple.

Kentucky’s athletes like Fox, Malik Monk and Isaiah Briscoe himself will be able to get into the lane at will against many opponents this season.

But, when the scoring droughts occur — and they have already occurred in games this season — the ‘Cats will need this shooting from Mulder to help open lanes and to help from defenses collapsing so hard on drives.

If Mulder is providing assistance other than his shooting, he needs to be on the floor

One play that stuck out from the win on Wednesday was when the ‘Cats jumped out to a 20-point lead on Valpo.

Wenyen Gabriel (who had a bounce-back performance of his own) missed a 3-pointer. Bam Adebayo was attempting to grab an offensive rebound, but the Crusaders had him outmanned down low. Mulder provided some help and grabbed one of his seven rebounds on the night, and made a great bounce pass that led to Adebayo being fouled underneath.

After the whistle brought the under-8 media timeout and some high praise from Calipari, who went out on to the floor to great Mulder after his hustle play kept the possession alive for the ‘Cats.

Something else that Mulder provides for the ‘Cats: He’s shedding the “he’s just a shooter” label one lob catch at a time.

This was a simple, but effective screen by Derek Willis at the right elbow in a baseline out of bounds set for the ‘Cats, and the pick gave Mulder all the space he needed off a great pass from, who else but Isaiah Briscoe?

Mulder can also catch alley-oops on the break, too. (In the Kentucky Combine before the season started, Mulder had the second highest max vertical on the team with 44”, right behind Dominique Hawkins’ 44.5” leap.)

With Camp Cal on the horizon for the young ‘Cats, it’s a transfer veteran whose impact is starting to show in the opportunities he’s been given.

“If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good,” Dr. Seuss once said.

John Calipari playing Mychal Mulder more is one of those things that is fun and good for Kentucky.