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When the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Toronto Raptors 104-96, it was bittersweet. On one hand, the Cavaliers made a statement on national television and were able to widen the gap between them and the play-in tournament. Cleveland had also been losing to lesser teams as of late as well so it felt like this win was more than much needed. It felt like, if anything, the Cavaliers were headed in the right direction once again.
But, unfortunately, on the other hand, Cleveland lost All-Star big man Jarrett Allen for the foreseeable future as well during their win over Toronto. Allen was initially injured in the first quarter when he also suffered a bruised quadriceps while driving to the basket. The following morning, it was discovered that Allen also fractured his left middle finger, which is in his non-shooting hand.
The 7-footer has had a major role in Cleveland's rise this season and now his injury is just the latest for the Cavaliers, which have been dealing with medical issues all season.
"He's the anchor of our defense," Cleveland forward Kevin Love said after Monday's practice. "He means so much to this team."
In terms of injuries, it feels like losing Allen could be the biggest blow to the Cavaliers. Despite the injury shakeup, Cleveland was able to supplant Collin Sexton's scoring or Ricky Rubio's playmaking through players stepping up or trades. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple when it comes to Allen.
As Love said, Allen has become an anchor for the Cavaliers defensively and is also an integral piece to what Cleveland does on offense as well. Allen provides constant pressure on the interior and is a reliable pick and roll partner with fellow All-Star Darius Garland. Allen's presence forces opposing defenses to pack the paint to try and mitigate his threat. This, in turn, opens up things for Garland, Love, Cedi Osman and so many others on the perimeter.
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Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley has showcased that his offensive game is leveling up only two games into Jarrett Allen's absence.
Again, it cannot be understated how much Allen impacts and unlocks things offensively for the Cavaliers. So, for now, Cleveland's stable of big men will have to step up in their All-Star's extended absence and try and provide a semblance of what Allen provides.
But, in that stable is a thoroughbred in Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley. On the season, Mobley, who has started alongside Allen at power forward since opening night, is averaging 14.8 points on 50.0% shooting, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.7 blocks and 0.8 steals in 34.1 minutes per game. Mobley already is oozing with talent and potential and could realistically one day be the league's Most Valuable Player. But, with Allen out, there's a huge opportunity for Mobley to ascend to another level on both ends of the floor.
“I think there's a higher purpose that he plays the game with when the games matter most,” said Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Sunday night. “Not everybody has the ability to rise when the lights are the brightest. And I think that's what Evan has the ability to do.”
So far, Mobley has more than confirmed Bickerstaff's belief in him. After Allen went down in Sunday's win over the Raptors, the Cleveland rookie posted 20 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. My friend, colleague and co-host Chris Manning compared Mobley's rebounding efforts to a supercharged, long-as-hell Tristan Thompson. It's not far off – these numbers feel like the next step in Mobley's game evolving since a decent portion of those rebounds came on the offensive side of the ball.
You saw more of it on Tuesday night's 127-124 victory over the Indiana Pacers as well with Mobley grabbing 12 rebounds, with 4 of them coming off the offensive glass. What makes that impressive is the fact that the Pacers possess overwhelming size. But, it wasn't just the rebounding that was impressive from Mobley. His night was pretty stellar with 22 points, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 block to go with those 12 boards.
Unfortunately, it was rightfully overshadowed by Garland having a career-best 41 point outing. But, if you look closely enough at Mobley's game and you can already see his game leveling up without Allen on the floor. Prior to Tuesday's game, Bickerstaff mentioned that with Mobley now starting at center, they would run more offensive packages that they'd typically gear towards Allen. Throughout the night you saw plenty of that – opening up things for Garland the rest of Cleveland's shooters. Speaking of shooting, Mobley also hit a fadeaway jumper in the post, which is something he's seldom shown up to this point in his NBA career.
There were also glimpses of Mobley's ability as an offensive hub as well, including an incredible lob pass to fellow big man Dean Wade on the fast break.
See @cavs's post on Twitter.
No rookie big man typically has the ability to do that. Ditto for any big man in general, really – unless you're Mobley. The thing is, the Cavaliers have already empowered Mobley to utilize his vision and passing to create shots for his teammates all over the floor. But, with Allen out this is an opportunity to accelerate that ability a bit as well as relieve some pressure on the likes of Garland and even Rajon Rondo.
Mind you, we're only two games into life without Allen but the performances of Mobley are a good indicator of what's to come from the rookie. He'll have two tough tests on the road against the Miami Heat and then the Chicago Bulls the following night. But, given how well he's played he seems like he's more than up to the task. The sky is the limit for Mobley's potential and right now is the perfect opportunity for him to level up.
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