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To many, Friday night's game between the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn't have been worth paying much attention to. Detroit was 2-8 heading into the matchup, and arguably one of the worst overall teams in the league. Cleveland, meanwhile, is one of the hotter teams in the Association but that alone doesn't counterbalance how putrid the Pistons are. Besides, the Milwaukee Bucks took on the Boston Celtics on ESPN at the same time and that was an exciting tilt between two Eastern Conference powerhouses that went down to the wire.
But, for those who didn't tune into the Cavaliers pummeling the Pistons 98-78 they missed out on the future of the NBA. Obviously, what made this a marquee matchup was the fact that this was the first time rookies Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley would square off against one another. Cunningham, who was taken first overall in the 2021 NBA Draft by Detroit, was fairly non-existent in round one – scoring 9 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and generating 3 assists all while turning it over 7 times. To be fair to Cunningham he was hounded by the Cavaliers whenever the Pistons were on offense and he's still struggling to find his rhythm after being sidelined with injury.
Mobley, who Cleveland took third overall, meanwhile, was sensational in his first regular season matchup with Cunningham. The rookie Cavalier had 16 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 3 blocks against Detroit. He also made franchise history as Mobley is the first rookie to grab 100 career rebounds in 13 games or less since Brad Daugherty and Hot Rod Williams. That's something LeBron James, who owns nearly every Cavaliers franchise record, couldn't even do.
But, the most impressive statistic of all is the fact that Mobley, unlike Cunningham, is elevating his team around him and, in turn, leading to winning.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen it, to be honest with you, or been around it. That’s how rare it is,” said Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff of Mobley’s impact on the team. “Normally, young guys are so consumed with figuring the game out for themselves that they struggle to impact winning. I’m not getting ahead of myself here, but he’s shown these first games that’s the impact that he can have. Because one, his skill set, but two, his intent. He does not care about anything else. There’s no agenda, there’s no motive. His sole focus is, how do I help the Cleveland Cavaliers win basketball games? And he just goes out and does that.”
In the first of hopefully many matchups between Detroit's Cade Cunningham and Cleveland's Evan Mobley, the Cavaliers walked away victorious.
The impact Mobley has obviously starts with him and trickles down to the rest of the Cavaliers roster, which is impressive in its own right. Mobley alongside Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen is forming one of the league's better big threes and they're all only in their early 20s. Complimenting them are Collin Sexton, a young, elite three-level scorer, Isaac Okoro, who has shown incredible defensive potential, Lauri Markkanen, a seven-footer that can hit three-pointers with relative ease, Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler, both three-point specialists that can wreak havoc off the bench.
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A ton of credit should go to Bickerstaff and the rest of Cleveland's coaching staff as well. Due to the youth and inexperience on this Cavaliers roster, many picked this team to finish alongside the Pistons at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Instead, according to Cleaning the Glass, the Cavaliers are on pace to win 44 games this season – which would firmly put them in the playoff hunt. It's also worth noting that, for now, Cleveland also has one of the top records in the Eastern Conference as well.
It's clear that Bickerstaff has figured out how to make this young Cavaliers team work, and win, in real-time. They've done plenty of unconventional things like starting three seven-footers at once. But, it's only weird if it doesn't work, right? Besides, if it leads to more lobs like the one Garland threw to Mobley against Detroit then Bickerstaff needs to keep being weird.
See @cavs's post on Twitter.
Again, none of this is disrespect to Detroit and what they're building by any means. First, this is a Cleveland-centric Bulletin page that you should be subscribed to if you already aren't. Second, Cunningham is still settling into playing at the next level and he could very well be the equivalent Mobley that this Detroit team needs in order to elevate things. Since the Pistons have assembled a fun, young core of their own but they still need to continue going through growing pains of their own as the Cavaliers did over the last several seasons.
Once Detroit does grow internally, they'll be in a very similar position as Cleveland finds itself in now. Not only is that great for both franchises, but, it's even better for the NBA as a whole as well. Neither Cleveland nor Detroit can hold a candle to New York or Miami or Los Angeles in terms of lifestyle and entertainment off the court. It's partially why LeBron James left the Cavaliers a second time to retire as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Those glamor markets don't need to rely on building through the draft as much and can instead rely on free agency in order to win.
But, the fact that both the Cavaliers and the Pistons have such bright futures with future superstars leading the way is a good thing. It gives fellow smaller markets like Oklahoma City or Orlando hope that things will also turn around for them once they're able to draft a future superstar of their own. The NBA is obviously more than just its glamor destinations and when every team has an equal shot at winning, it makes the league overall better as well. It became clear that on Friday night the future of the league was on full display in Cleveland. The future looks bright.
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