Evan Mobley’s flashes of brilliance a sign of things to come for Cavaliers

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

From his rookie year to sophomore season, the improvements of Evan Mobley are not identifiable by only looking at the stat sheet. Some things are trackable, but his role shifted when the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired the gunslinging Donovan Mitchell. The squad had expectations for the first time since LeBron James led it to four straight NBA Finals (2015-2018).

Accommodating a scorer like Mitchell requires everyone on the team to sacrifice touches and forces management to abandon the original timeline for group success. Mobley got in where he fit in because he is a switchblade that can man the four and five spot. For his career, he has spent 34% of it at center and as high as 44% in 2022-2023 at that spot.

In his first two seasons, he is 57th all-time for points scored by a power forward or center in the first two years of a career. That number may not seem high at first, but the NBA has been around for a long time. He still logged more on his scorecard over his initial two years than past and present ballers such as Anthony Davis (2,261), Amar’e Stoudemire (2,239), Chris Bosh (2,222), Joel Embiid (2,072) and Nikola Jokić (2,017).

On defense, Mobley is one of 22 players since 1969 to make an All-Defensive team in his first two seasons. His big man company in this stat is Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manute Bol, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Embiid. By definition, as an NBA minnow, he was the creme de la creme on the side that wins championships. Anyone that finds their name next to these legends is doing something right, especially so young, because being a good defender is about intelligence, technique and effort.

Flashes of brilliance from Mobley are a sign of things to come for the Cavaliers’ budding star big man.

In the league, the player whose game is most similar to Mobley’s is the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo. Both are defensive aces that can guard each position or work the zone. Miami’s center is well on his way to establishing himself as a generational disruptor, having made All-Defensive Second Team four consecutive years.

Offensively, Adebayo has evolved as a playmaker and added the mid-range shot to his arsenal, using it to become the second-leading paint scorer behind Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2022-2023.

A large chunk of Adebayo’s assists are still dribble-handoffs, but he’s now capable of making difficult reads when rivals flash a double. It also took Adebayo four years to hit mid-range buckets consistently, and by his sixth (2023), he was logging 49.8% of his attempts from 10-16 feet away from the cup.

For Mobley, making him a DHO hub will open up avenues for rim attacks. Adding the mid-range jumper to his arsenal is still multiple years away, but like Adebayo, he is willing to work at it, evident by 13.2% of his shots coming from 10-16 feet out. On those looks, he finishes 40.4% for his career.

Antetokounmpo’s November observations should keep raising the interest of every Cavaliers fan. When he spoke with Cleveland.com, he said Mobley could be better than him, and the Greek Freak is not a disingenuous guy.

Through two seasons, Mobley was more advanced on both sides than Anteokounmpo was in 2014 and 2015. In that span, he had a higher usage than Antetokounmpo, with a significantly higher field goal percentage.

From close range (0-3 feet), Mobley converted 79.2% of tries to the Freak’s 61%. Although, one advantage Atetokounmpo had early over Mobley was his skills and speed orchestrating the fastbreak with the ball. The “Alphabet Man” came into the NBA like an oversized running back with wings on his feet like Hermes.

Additionally, in the halfcourt, Mobley has already developed the hook, which eats up 17.3% of his shot diet. On those tries, he records 41.5% of looks. In the 2015 season, the hook was only 4.6% of Giannis’ field goal attempts, yet he made 44.4%.

This move has made Mobley a tougher guard than Antetokounmpo was as an NBA baby. It’s one of his main tricks in the paint non-restricted area, where he finished 9.4% more shots than Giannis did in 2015.

With Mobley’s versatility, naturally, comparisons to Duncan were sure to surface too. TD was as close as it got to a perfect basketball player, and he also could play the four and five and stuck to the latter overwhelmingly for the last nine years of his career. Duncan also led his group to a title as a sophomore, winning Finals MVP that season.

Mobley is not the rebounder Duncan was at 21 and 22 years old. In his first two seasons with the Spurs, Timmy recovered 267 more boards than Evan in his first two campaigns.

The Cavaliers’ defensive scheme of switching after a screen does factor into these rebounding numbers. Mobley spends a bunch of time covering the perimeter, and Duncan was mostly closer to the basket but still could stop someone at the elbow.

For Duncan’s first two seasons, his rebounding percentage was 17%. For Mobley, it’s 14.5%.

Cleveland’s big man must improve as an offensive rebounder. During the regular season, he pulled down 2.4 a night, good enough for 26th in the league, but someone with his length and wingspan should pick up more possessions for his group, especially if he plays for the slowest outfit in the NBA. The grit-and-grind style is a double-edge razor because going slow doesn’t buy a team extra possessions.

In the first-round series against the Knicks, the rebounding differential with the Cavaliers was 41 in favor of New York. Mobley averaged 10 boards and three on offense in the encounter. He and Jarrett Allen combined for six offensive rebounds per game, but it wasn’t enough because Darius Garland and Mitchell shot poorly, while that series was played at 89.6 level of pace, and the league average is 99.2. New York’s starting frontline averaged 7.2 offensive rebounds that turned into 18.2 second-chance points nightly.

Even with decent rebounding numbers in the NBA Playoffs, there were moments when Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle overpowered him on a box out. So he doesn’t get beat as badly on the glass, he needs to add some muscle to his legs and shoulders.

By the time Mobley is 25, he should be the best player on his team and an MVP candidate. His and the squad’s playoff debut was embarrassing but the sting of those memories usually turn into an athlete’s fuel source, or at least the ones that care.

His two years as a pro are a great source of evidence for anyone to take stock in Mobley as the league’s next top big man when Jokić’s reign concludes. And that’s with an NBA that will soon have the French marvel Victor Wembanyama, who stands at 7-foot-5 with shoes on, dominating pro ball.

Next. The 3 Cavaliers players under the most pressure next season. dark

Mobley’s time is coming and no one has seen anything yet.