It’s pretty difficult to be too critical of Evan Mobley for how he’s done in his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers to this point. Mobley has had 14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per outing in his first year, and his play, along with Jarrett Allen’s, has been crucial for Cleveland’s defense.
The Cavaliers have the league’s fourth-best defensive rating, and Mobley and Allen’s shot contests have been huge for the Wine and Gold, who have conceded the lowest shooting percentage on restricted area shot attempts this season. That’s been a 58.7 percent clip, per NBA.com’s tracking data. Cleveland’s defense of three-point shot attempts as an overall unit off that has been among the league’s best throughout the season, too.
Circling back to Mobley’s play himself, he has been dynamite on the defensive end, aside from defensive rebounding positioning, which is an area where he needs to improve, and getting stronger in coming years will help.
On the offensive end, Mobley has been consistent for the Cavaliers, and his touch near the rim as a roller, cutter, some on low-post looks and his encouraging displays of shot creation on-ball have all been impressive. Mobley’s fadeaways and ability to hit looks from getting to his spots on pull-ups has been great to see, and he’ll only get better in coming years, particularly if his catch-and-shoot play improves; threes aren’t much of his game yet.
Lately, though, Mobley had been somewhat off in some of the last batch of games for Cleveland in February leading into the All-Star break that’ll wrap up soon. That’s not factoring in his Rising Stars performance, as an aside.
In four of his last eight games before the All-Star break, Mobley scored in single digits, and seemed out of sorts, to some extent.
Darius Garland did miss four games during that stretch because of lower back soreness, though, which played some into that, and fortunately, the break had to have made a difference for Garland. Garland helped Mobley and Allen in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and the emerging star lead guard competed with Allen in winning the All-Star Game with Team LeBron on Sunday, and Darius seems fine.
Plus, Lauri Markkanen, from a spacing/shooting standpoint, is progressing in his recovery from an ankle sprain, which has been the reason he’s missed the last 11 games, and he’s been reportedly ramping up his workouts, and could seemingly return pretty soon. So that should help Mobley.
Evan will have to go out and re-establish himself, though, and on a positive note, I firmly believe he’ll get rolling again.
After an up-and-down stretch, Mobley seems primed for a strong close for the Cavs.
Mobley seemed to, offensively, be hitting the rookie wall, to some extent in recent games prior to the All-Star break. Part of it was Garland missing five games, as we noted.
With Garland looking to be back healthier, that should make a difference for Mobley and others, along with Markkanen, when he is ultimately back in the swing of things.
For Mobley, I do expect him to close out the season strong, and he can still hopefully get to some of his go-to looks come postseason play, if Cleveland gets there.
Even for a 20-year-old rookie big, the USC product has consistently found ways to be in the right areas for cutting feeds, and on the weak side, he’s made himself available for interior passes or looks along the baseline.
After the break, I’d imagine Cleveland worked with Mobley to get him back in-rhythm with those sort of opportunities, and on-ball, we should see him be able to adjust in the closing stretch.
And this isn’t to say he didn’t have some very productive games close to the break, either. Mobley did have 18 points in Cleveland’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, and 22 points at Atlanta, albeit in a loss.
So to reiterate, with what he’s shown over the course of this season, I don’t expect this past brief hiccup to linger, and Garland and Markkanen should only help Mobley offensively looking onward.
Mobley is the Rookie of the Year so far for a number of reasons, and from here, I firmly believe he’ll close out his rookie season strong, and with how things have gone, he can still be a big-time player in the postseason, too. The dude has often resembled a seasoned vet.