Evan Mobley showing a lot of promise early

Published October 29, 2021, 11:00 AMMiguel Flores

The 2021 third overall pick’s feel for the game and unique skills have allowed him to produce solid numbers to start the season.

The 2021 NBA Draft was crucial for the teams picking at the very top. With a class touting three potentially franchise-altering talents at the top, it was imperative for the Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers to strike gold with their pick. 

With the third pick, the Cavaliers weren’t in control of which of Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, or Evan Mobley they were going to get. They would have most likely picked whoever among the three fell to them, but they were lucky they ended up with Mobley. 

The Cavaliers are only five games into their season, but they already look much more competitive than in seasons past. Sure, some of their lottery picks like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland have been playing well but it’s been Mobley that’s allowed the Cavs to experiment and get some early wins in the process.

Into the fire

Mobley is a specimen of an athlete. A seven-footer with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, he was projected to be a solid rim protector right out of the box.

But the Cavaliers were not content with Mobley being just a rim protector. Right from his first game, Cleveland tested Mobley’s limits as a perimeter defender. Gifted with quickness and nimble feet, Mobley has always shown signs of being a capable defender when switching on guards or forwards.

To start the season, the Cavs have employed an ultra-big starting lineup, featuring Jarrett Allen at center, Mobley at power forward, and Lauri Markkanen as their nominal small forward. On defense, Mobley is assigned to the opposing wing and he’s surprisingly done well.

This possession where Mobley was switched onto Trae Young had Cavaliers salivating. Young discovered what a lot of perimeter players are quickly finding out about Mobley: you can’t just dribble around him and get to the rim. It’s astonishing just how comfortable Mobley already is with these configurations. When he does get into the paint, he’s done well to contest without fouling—a rare skill most young bigs need a few years to master.

The Cavaliers’ massive lineup has beat up opponents early. Any lineup that features the Cavs’ three bigs has so far come out with a positive net rating, according to Spectrum. They’ve outrebounded teams and clogged the paint so much that opponents just don’t have enough space to drive.

If there’s anything that the last two NBA champions have proven it’s that size still very much matters, despite the prevalence of small ball. The Lakers and Bucks have elite rim protectors who can also shut down perimeter players in Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo, respectively. The Cavs are hoping they develop the same superstar in Mobley.

For now, having a beefy center like Jarrett Allen protecting the paint has worked wonders for Mobley.

On offense, Mobley has shown just as much versatility. On a team with ball-dominant guards like Sexton and Garland, Mobley has flashed his playmaking potential from the post.

Mobley averages 2.2 assists per game, mostly coming from hand-off actions. This bodes well for the Cavs especially when Mobley matures and starts commanding the ball more.

The steal of the draft?

Mobley’s first five games have also exposed his weaknesses. He needs to get stronger to round out all facets of his game. For now, he gets knocked around by the league’s burly low-post bangers like John Collins and Nikola Jokic. Putting on some more muscle will also help him stay balanced on offense when those bangers push him around in the paint.

While he’s advanced as a perimeter defender, some players have already discovered that they can shoot over Mobley when he drops down to cover their dribble penetration. Against the Clippers, Mobley received his rookie baptism when Nicolas Batum scored on him on three straight possessions, all jumpers.

There’s a future where Mobley demolishes the hopes of any offensive player once he gets more comfortable with the speed of the NBA. For now, his raw talent, physical tools, and instincts have allowed him to average 13.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 2.0 blocks on 52.2 percent shooting from the field and 90 percent from the free throw line in his first five games. The rookie wall will eventually hit but, realistically, his numbers will only rise, once the Cavaliers play more lineups that feature his strengths more broadly.

In their second post-LeBron James build-up, the Cavaliers needed to find their next franchise star through the draft. Luckily for them, it seems that the best player from this year’s draft fell on their laps.


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