As time goes on, the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to be one of the NBA’s more compelling stories. Last year, they went from being considered a league bottom feeder to a serious threat overnight after selecting Evan Mobley third overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. Mobley unlocked many things for Cleveland on the defensive side of the ball, which is exceptionally rare for a rookie. It’s so rare in fact that Mobley made a fairly easy case for All-Defensive Team honors and consideration for Defensive Player of the Year as well. Again, that’s only with Mobley having 69 games under his belt. But, despite not winning the aforementioned awards as well as being snubbed for NBA Rookie of the Year, the expectations were set: the Cavaliers will go as far they can on either end of the floor as Mobley is able to take them.
The preconceived expectations that Cleveland carried with them because of Mobley were only heightened after they got Donovan Mitchell in a late-summer trade with the Utah Jazz. On one end of the spectrum, acquiring Mitchell made things a little less strenuous for Mobley due to the former’s star-studded scoring acumen. Meanwhile, on the other end, adding Mitchell, a relatively pedestrian defender, to the mix on that end of the floor meant that more was going to be expected from Mobley right away.
It’s an interesting dichotomy that any player, especially one heading into their second season, has to digest. Doubly so when Mobley missed the majority of the preseason due to an ankle sprain he suffered in practice. That injury led to Mobley missing opportunities to establish a report on offense with Mitchell which further helps them figure out a new balance within Cleveland’s new big four. Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared with Right Down Euclid at the time that it was a little concerning that neither Mitchell nor Mobley had real-time opportunities to get to know one another on the floor.
Anyone and everyone knew that it was going to take time for everything to click and a handful of preseason games is an unrealistic stretch to have everything suddenly in harmony on offense. But, considering Mobley is still such a raw talent on that end of the floor, the concerns were also somewhat mitigated by Bickerstaff as well because of what Mobley specializes in: defense. For a few weeks now, Right Down Euclid and numerous others have waxed poetic on how special Mobley has been on the defensive side of the ball nearly a quarter of the way into the season. But, for those who may not know, here’s where Mobley currently ranks as a defensive player:
- Allowed 21.0% of isolation attempts defended (7-33).
- Allowing 0.65 points per possession when defending in isolation.
- Allowing 4.3 field goals per game to connect at the rim.
- Averaging 1.4 blocks per game.
- Averaging 1.0 steals per game.
While some of the more advanced numbers are impressive, when breaking down Mobley’s counting stats it probably doesn’t blow many away. Well, that’s more so because when Mobley is on the floor, opposing NBA offenses scheme to avoid him as much as possible. A lot of that is an indication of the respect Mobley has already earned in the NBA. Even more of it comes from a place of fear from opponents any time they have to face Mobley. If you ask anyone around the Cavaliers, both Mobley and the team wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s something that we should all watch and pay attention to,” said Bickerstaff to Right Down Euclid after Cleveland’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. “A conversation we have with Evan all the time is that Evan has the opportunity to be the most impactful player on the floor every night. No matter what his numbers are or what they say, there’s the intangibles and there’s just the overall impact of his presence making the right plays at the right time.
“It’s his two-way ability to protect the paint. Most of the time, when guys see him in there, they don’t even go in there. There’s not a stat for that. When he catches the ball and he makes the hockey assist, they don’t track that in our box scores. His presence in the paint when he’s rolling, people have to go to him and it creates an open opportunity for somebody else. They don’t track that. They don’t put that in the stat sheet. Evan’s main thing is, and I’ve been impressed by it, the only thing he cares about is helping us win and doing whatever it takes to make us win.”
Bickerstaff has shared with Right Down Euclid in the past that Mobley’s defensive acumen right now is on par with Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett or even a young Anthony Davis, all of whom are Hall-of-Fame-caliber players. But, with nearly a quarter of their games behind them, the Cavaliers are now starting to see Mobley’s offensive potential match what is already a rock-solid foundation defensively as well. Coming out of college, Mobley was touted as having the potential of being a point guard in a big man’s body. While it’s an overblown term for some, calling Mobley a unicorn didn’t seem too far-fetched when sinking your teeth deep into his game. But, due to his combination of inexperience and a slight frame, it was going to take time for Mobley to get comfortable on the offensive side of the ball at the NBA level.
That’s why during his rookie season, Mobley didn’t have a ton going for him on the offensive side of the ball. Sure, there were flashes of what he could be as a player. But, probably due to how he’s wired, Mobley didn’t try to do too much on offense, relying on help from Cleveland’s lead guards while expending most of his energy on defense to keep the good times rolling. “He could have come here as a rookie when our team was kind of a question mark, and he could have just hunted shots and tried to get his stats. But he never did,” Bickerstaff said to Right Down Euclid.
In the month of November, Mobley is averaging 14.6 points per game on 54.1% shooting. If you just take that at face value, again, it’s easy to not be impressed since that’s a lower-scoring average compared to Mobley’s rookie season. But, when you add in the fact that in November Mobley is also averaging 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game as well, it’s becoming a bit more clear how much of an impact Mobley has on either end of the floor. Sure, it might not be the sexiest numbers overall but, again, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to Mobley is helping his team win on a nightly basis.
No play better crystallizes Mobley’s win-first attitude better than a crucial pass he made in Cleveland’s recent win over the Charlotte Hornets. All throughout the night, the Cavaliers struggled against the lowly Hornets and looked like they were about to lose to Charlotte in overtime. Mobley crashed the glass to gobble up a missed Mitchell three-pointer all while establishing presence down low with a somewhat clean look at the bucket. Instead, Mobley had the presence of mind to find Darius Garland, Cleveland’s best three-point shooter, at the top of the perimeter and swung the momentum firmly back in favor of the Cavaliers in an eventual win.
“It’s crazy because he’s only 21,” said Darius Garland to Right Down Euclid. “He hasn’t really got all his tools together. I mean, sometimes it’s still looking like used to his seven-foot size out there. He’s literally a unicorn. There’s really not a lot of people on this planet like him and it’s just cool to have him as a teammate for sure.”
Mobley is still only scratching the surface of his potential as a player but we’re now seeing him ramp up toward the lofty expectations he carried heading into this season. Like last season, the Cavaliers will only go as far as Mobley can take them. Thankfully for Cleveland’s sake, Mobley fully understands what that requires of him. But, based on how Mobley’s going to continuously keep growing as a player, a championship may not be too far off for the Cavaliers in the near-distant future.
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 a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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