With their 106-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Easter Sunday, the regular season is officially over for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Overall, Cleveland finished the year 51-31, an eight-win improvement from last year. The Cavaliers were rewarded homecourt advantage for their efforts in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Cleveland is showing signs of becoming a true title contender as this young, up-and-coming squad continues to grow. Franchise point guard Darius Garland once told Right Down Euclid that he and his teammates are fiending at the opportunity and want to go out and make some noise in the postseason.
Unfortunately for Garland and his teammates, there are still a few days until Cleveland opens things up at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse against the New York Knicks (more on that later this week). So, in the meantime, let’s look back at this year for the Cavaliers. Defensively, Cleveland was the top team in the league in defensive rating. On offense, meanwhile, the Cavaliers finished the regular season seventh in the NBA in offensive rating. When combining these two factors, Cleveland grades out as the second-best team overall in the NBA, only behind the Boston Celtics.
The Cavaliers have played hard all season and should be rewarded individually. The problem is, every player on Cleveland’s roster is competing with every one of their professional colleagues for end-of-season accolades. That makes it hard to make a case for every player despite how you truly feel about how the Cavaliers performed this season. But, when it comes to Evan Mobley and Donovan Mitchell, it’s a bit easier to say why they’re more deserving than the rest of the field. Both players have become staples of either end of the floor for Cleveland and their individual efforts have played a huge part in why the Cavaliers are the second-most balanced team in the NBA.
Mitchell has one of the NBA’s hottest motors on offense and is having his best professional season despite many impressive seasons already played. Meanwhile, Mobley has become one of the league’s best defenders overall and a menace for opponents anywhere on the floor. Today, Right Down Euclid will make a case for both players to be rewarded for their individual effort this season. First, let’s start off with the Slim Reaper himself: Evan Mobley.
His individual defensive statistics show that Mobley has been stellar all season. He’s ninth in blocks, averaging 1.5 per game. Mobley has 59 games under his belt where he’s contested at least one shot and has 33 games this season where he’s also had multiple blocks. He does this all while avoiding foul trouble and is averaging 2.8 fouls per game, which makes Mobley’s efforts defending the paint even more impressive.
It’s not just on the interior where Mobley is wreaking havoc either. The true gift that makes him one of one is that he’s just as comfortable defending in space. By the end of the regular season, Mobley defended the third-most isolation possessions in the NBA at 140. In those moments, Mobley has only allowed his opponent to score on 31.8% of said possessions. It’s rare for any big man to be that comfortable defending in space, especially one in his second year like Mobley. He can do everything and anything on the defensive side of things, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by those around him every day.
“He is one of the most impactful defensive players that’s not limited to a single thing,” said head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “He’s not just an elite, one-on-one defender. He’s not just an elite pick-and-roll defender. He’s not just an elite rim protector. He has the versatility to guard every position. He’s been that for a team that’s been the number-one defense for the majority of the year. Night by night his matchup changes, but his responsibilities don’t.”
Last season, Mobley catalyzed Cleveland to become an overnight success, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This season, he’s only become even more hellacious at his craft, honing things in on a nightly basis and has become a true jack of all trades, master of plenty in only his second year. It’s scary to comprehend what Mobley could be capable of when he hits his apex but it’s not hard to think he’ll be in the conversation for the NBA’s MVP by then.
But, for this season alone, there’s plenty Mobley could be individually rewarded for. Namely, Mobley is the obvious answer to win Defensive Player of the Year this season. No one is better than Mobley on defense, Nic Claxton, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Giannis Antetokounmpo be damned. Mobley should be rewarded by being named to one of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams. Bickerstaff said that Mobley is the key component in the NBA’s best defense. Without his combination of size, length, versatility, instincts, coordination, IQ and switchability, the Cavaliers wouldn’t function the same on that side of the ball.
“Watch a basketball game,” quipped Darius Garland. “Watch a Cavaliers game. He’s a 7-footer that switches out on guards and defends one through five. That’s pretty crazy.”
Mobley has played so well, in fact, that he could make a fairly compelling argument for All-NBA honors as well. Unfortunately, Mobley could be blocked from being rewarded due to being considered a forward and the overall field being overwhelmingly talented. But, when it comes to Mitchell, it’s incredibly evident that he should be named to an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.
On a nightly basis, Mitchell has been the best player for the Cavaliers and the team’s personal MVP this year. Considering how much Cleveland gave up to acquire him from the Utah Jazz over the summer, this would always be the baseline expectation. But, considering that Mitchell is having his best season ever in his sixth overall campaign, his case as one of the best guards in the league overall starts to crystalize.
Sure, many will point to the 71-point game, which is the most scored since Kobe Bryant dropped 81 in 2006. But, the fact that Mitchell scored or assisted on 99 of Cleveland’s 145 overall points on that night puts into perspective how valuable Mitchell is to the Cavaliers on offense. This high-octane approach also has led to him having the best scoring season of his career, averaging 28.3 points per game on a career-best 48.4% from the field to boot.
Mitchell having a career-best year isn’t only happening on offense either, mind you. With a younger supporting cast around him, Mitchell has been able to expend more energy on the defensive side of the ball, tapping into his God-given 6′ 10″ wingspan. It’s allowed Mitchell to become a two-way player for Cleveland, which feels unheard of considering his reputation on defense during his time in Utah. Mitchell’s fit on either end of the ball is seamless and sure, having Mobley to cover him at times helps a lot. But, considering that the Cavaliers didn’t skip a beat on defense, despite adding Mitchell, it further emboldens his All-NBA case.
At the end of the day, there are only six spots for the All-NBA team at the guard position. Regardless, Mitchell is the best shooting guard in the NBA and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him earning First Team All-NBA honors alongside Luka Doncic or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Either way, like Mobley, Mitchell has been a catalyst for Cleveland’s success on either end of the floor this season. That success speaks for itself and it’s why both players should be rewarded for their effort this season.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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