Life comes at you fast sometimes, but “fast” may not be enough to describe the speed at which Evan Mobley has had to adjust to the rigors of the NBA.
Mobley has already had the unenviable task of guarding the likes of Anthony Davis, DeAndre Ayton, Clint Capela, Steven Adams, Jaren Jackson Jr., and last season’s MVP Nikola Jokic all in his first eight games. Apart from NBA experience, he gives up what looks like a minimum of 50 pounds to each of those big men, with the versatility of Davis, Jackson Jr., and Jokic further complicating matters.
As tough as that sounds, the California native has handled himself well so far and brought hope to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been dazed and confused since LeBron James left back in 2018.
As of this writing, Mobley has been averaging 13.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 33.0 minutes per game. He has scored in double figures in all but one of those eight games and has managed to rack up three double-doubles against the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Charlotte Hornets.
In the 113-110 win over the Hornets, Mobley finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block, numbers that stand out in what seemed like an otherwise quiet but effective night for the third overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen brought headaches to the Charlotte defense and Mobley was happy to get opportunities (and at times create plays) off the gravity drawn by his teammates.
It has so far looked as if the game comes easy for Mobley when compared to some of his peers, and even those from the previous draft classes. His size and soft touch, combined with his respectable jumpshot and great offensive awareness make him a tough cover despite only having a usage rate of 17.9 percent, good for fifth on the Cavaliers. He has so far let the game come to him. Patiently reading opposing defenses and understanding how to bait them into mistakes are among his best intangible traits.
His passing ability points to his potential as a playmaker on the post, off the dribble, and even with the pick-and-roll. As time goes by, look for J.B. Bickerstaff and the rest of Cleveland’s coaching staff to run more things through him.
Defensively, his quick hands and good instincts allow him to disrupt passing lanes and swat shots. Having a frontcourt partner in Allen certainly helps as he can share the defensive load with his teammate. Even when he has to switch on guards, he is capable of staying with his man and forcing an ill-advised shot. His defensive numbers only give further credence to his abilities on that end as his defensive win shares and block percentage are 13th and 22nd among qualified players, respectively.
Mobley’s outside shooting is perhaps his most glaring weakness, yet at this point in his career, it may not be something that teams will exploit nor will it be something that will keep him on the bench in crucial minutes. The former USC Trojan made 30.0 percent of his field goals from behind the shorter college 3-point line and is currently making 22.2 percent of 3-point shots from behind the NBA line. Nevertheless, the potential is there and reps and practice could bring that up and make him an even more devastating offensive player.
Decision-making and adding more post moves are other areas of required improvement, but these could all be addressed with more coaching and practice. He will, however, have to bulk up, even at a gradual pace. An 82-game season can take its toll on one’s body and facing bigger and more experienced players on a nightly basis will be much easier when Mobley’s body is more at par with his opponents.
Anthony Davis, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Bosh are just some of the names thrown around when providing comparisons for Evan Mobley. At this point, it’s safe to say that sky’s the limit for the 20-year old. He will face some bumps in the road and may even encounter the proverbial “rookie wall”, but it’s safe to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a keeper.