It was a busy offseason for Chris Collins and Northwestern basketball. As we continue our player previews for the upcoming season, we’ll take a look at another new face who arrived in Evanston via the transfer portal. Collins and staff hope sophomore guard Justin Mullins, a transfer from Denver, is a piece who can help contribute now, and into the future.
Who he is
Sophomore; 6-foot-4; Oak Park, IL; Denver transfer.
32 games played (27 starts), 29.1 minutes per game, 9.8 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 1.1 assists per game, 0.4 blocks per game, 1.5 steals per game, 51.8 FG%, 69.2 FT%.
Mullins had a productive freshman season at Denver, showing promise on both sides of the ball. He wasn’t much of a distributor, but at 9.8 points a night, Mullins was putting the ball in the basket at an impressive rate for a first-year player.
As a regular starter for Denver, Mullins got valuable Division I playing time in 2022-23. However, he was afforded that opportunity in large part due to Denver’s lack of talent and the uninspiring state of its program. The Pioneers went just 15-17 with a 6-12 record in Summit League play.
So playing in the Big Ten — in hostile environments, in games that have postseason implications — will be an adjustment for the young guard. But his well-rounded game should help him make the jump. Mullins was an effective defender for Denver, and Northwestern is in need of exceptional perimeter defenders after the departure of Chase Audige. Mullins had 1.5 steals per game, which was good enough for fourth in the conference.
Additionally, Mullins was relatively efficient, posting respectable shooting percentages from both the field and beyond the arc. His three-point percentage was 36.5%, a number that gives me real hope that he’ll eventually find his stroke in the Big Ten. His 69.2% from the foul line is a little low, but he was a freshman. You can only hope he continues to develop from the stripe.
Mullins’ most important strength for Northwestern basketball’s future is his age. He is only a sophomore. Unlike Blake Preston and Ryan Langborg, Collins went out and got this guy because he believes in his development and his potential to impact the program in the long haul. He might have guards like Boo Buie, Ty Berry and Langborg ahead of him in the rotation this year, but Mullins is seen as a future building block.
Another important asset of Mullins is his athleticism and defensive prowess. From that standpoint, losing Chase Audige was a complete killer. It’s hard to look at the depth chart for this season and feel great about the ‘Cats’ ability to hang with other talented, athletic Big Ten guards. Without the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Northwestern needs someone to step up. Mullins has the potential to be that guy defensively.
It’s also hard to ignore that Mullins did get buckets as a freshman for Denver. While the adjustment to higher level basketball and reduced playing time will probably impact his stats this year, there’s reason to believe a future as a double-digit scorer is possible.
Mullins is listed at 190 pounds, but he’s a pretty skinny player from the eye-test. It’s hard not to wonder if he’s too skinny to be an effective slasher in the Big Ten. Additionally, he was not an effective distributor for Denver, which won’t matter much as long as Buie is in the fold, but what about next year? What about the year after that? Are the ‘Cats just going to entirely change their offensive style of play to work around a ball-dominant guard who doesn’t pass well? It’s an area of his game he must improve.
His free throw percentage is also a legitimate concern. Northwestern needs to be consistent at the line this year. It posted a 75.7% field goal percentage in 2022-23, which was the second best figure in the Big Ten and helped propel the group to a second place finish in the conference. Don’t write off Mullins as a free throw shooter just yet, but know he’s a work in progress there.
Expect his numbers to dip from last season. Mullins simply plays a position at which Northwestern has both depth and its best players. Langborg is going to get a lot more run early on as Collins and Co. hope to see good things from the grad-transfer. But count on seeing some of Mullins, and probably even more of him in non-conference games.
Northwestern wants to see what it has, and there’s every reason to believe Mullins could be an impact player in the ‘Cats’ lineup. It might even happen this year. I don’t expect him to set the world on fire, but I do anticipate that he’ll show flashes that get Northwestern fans excited for what’s to come.
Julian Roper’s season last year as a sophomore represents a decent player comparison for what I expect out of Mullins. The outgoing transfer averaged 4.4 points per game and shot 45.3% from the field. Albeit, Roper’s season was riddled with injuries, but Mullins is likely to put up a similar campaign (hopefully without all the missed time). Mullins will occupy a similar role as a backup guard, and if history repeats itself, Collins will likely deploy him in a similar fashion.