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Mbah a Moute: Big Plus for Rockets

November 23rd, 2017 · 1 Comment · NBA, UCLA

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute‘s final season at UCLA, 2007-08, was also my last as a journalist in Southern California.

I remember Mbah a Moute fairly well. He was a junior, a starter at power forward for a UCLA program that was riding high, and a regular contributor the previous two seasons. But he also was the fifth-best guy in the lineup that included Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp.

Nothing about Mbah a Moute said “NBA star”.

The notion that he would have a significant pro career … and he has, with 10 seasons and more than $25 million in salary … well, I never saw that coming.

Not only has Mbah a Moute, a native of Cameroon, moved into his 10th season in the league … the other day he had an NBA-record plus-minus statistic of plus-57 for his latest team, the Houston Rockets.

Which is astonishing, for several reasons.

–Mbah a Moute, a 6-8 forward, is an NBA journeyman. He has never had a season in which he averaged 10 points or 6.0 rebounds per game. He is competent pretty much across the board but he is best known for his defense.

–At 31, it is fair to say he is on the backside of his career. He is on a one-year contract with the Rockets and is being paid $2.1 million. Which is a lot of money to civilians but barely above the NBA minimum for a player with his experience.

–He played the previous two seasons for the Clippers, usually starting but never getting starter’s minutes; he averaged only 17 a game, two seasons ago. Leading generic Clippers fans to wonder why coach Doc Rivers bothered making him a starter.

–Mbah a Moute’s plus-57 came in a 125-95 rout of the Denver Nuggets. The team won by 30 but the Rockets outscored the Nuggets 93-36 while Mbah a Moute was on the court. (Or, to flip this around, the Nuggets outscored the Rockets 59-32 when Mbah a Moute was not on the court.)

–The boxscore would seem to suggest he played something approaching a perfect game. He did not start but played 26 minutes. He scored only 13 points, albeit on 5-for-5 shooting (3-for-3 from three, and shooting from behind the arc has never been a strength), with four rebounds, four steals and no turnovers.

One would think the plus-minus record would be held by a superstar who got a lot of minutes in a blowout.

Joe Smith was a borderline star when he put up a plus-52 in 2001, which was the record till Mbah a Moute’s big game. The next two on the plus-minus list, each at plus-50, are Wally Szczerbiak and Jared Jeffries. Useful NBA players but not stars.

Maybe the best environment for running up a big plus number is lots of minutes when the opposition’s backups are playing and having a really bad game. A collective collapse.

Mbah a Moute was plus-18 in the first quarter, plus-15 in the second, plus-11 in the third and plus-13 in the fourth.

Much about his career has been unexpected.

Cameroon wasn’t known for basketball players until Mbah a Moute came along. He and countryman Alfred Aboya played on the 2007-08 UCLA team, prompting some Bruins fans to declare themselves “Cameroon Crazies” — as opposed to Duke’s Cameron Crazies.

Mbah a Moute is credited with helping develop basketball talent in his hometown of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, led by first-round draft picks Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014, and Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors, the 27th pick in 2016. Mbah a Moute played a role in each of those guys being discovered by the NBA, too.

One more thing.

It strikes me that Ben Howland, UCLA’s coach in that 2007-08 season, might have a little ‘splainin’ to do. Four of his five starters not only made it in the NBA … all four of them are still in the league and one of them, Russell Westbrook, is the reigning MVP and a six-time NBA all-star. Kevin Love has been considered a star-level player throughout his career and has four all-star game appearances. Darren Collison has been a key contributor for several teams over eight seasons. But Howland’s guys lost 75-63 to Memphis State, Derrick Rose and a dozen guys who had little or no impact on the NBA.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Ben // Nov 26, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Mbah a Moute started for the Cilppers because Doc Rivers liked him as a defensive tone-setter. Then he would go with his scorers in the fourth quarter while Mbah a Moute cheered from the bench.

    Memphis also had Chris Douglas-Roberts, who was a first-team All-American even if his NBA career didn’t quite stack up.

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