Earning a All-NBA First Defensive Team selection as a sophomore is rare. Mobley is already as impactful as the league’s elite disruptors, but what separates him from most is his combination of size, length and agility. In the regular season, he has a decent opportunity to win Defensive Player of the Year in season three because of how much the Cavaliers rely on him.
Even with Mobley’s build being slightly thin, he is used to freeze opposing guards outside and to sabotage actions of bigger players in the paint. He and Jarrett Allen were the main reasons the Cavaliers deployed the NBA’s third-ranked interior defense in the regular season.
Winning the award should be about impact first, but voters will look to block and steal numbers in their evaluations. Last season, Mobley averaged 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals. The winner of the prize was Jaren Jackson Jr., who defends well from every area. JJJ averaged a steal and three rejections in 2022-23, but he was fourth in the league in personal fouls, only allowing him 28.4 minutes per game. Mobley doesn’t commit as many cheap penalties because it’s harder to get him off his feet with a fake.
Next season, small lineups will be a great opportunity for Mobley to demonstrate his defensive prowess. As a pro, he has logged 34 percent of his minutes at center, but additional time spent at the five in man-to-man coverage against the league’s elite centers should sharpen his skills and help sway the voters if he is the primary reason his matchup had an off night.
Getting stronger is imperative for Mobley playing up a position. In the postseason, Mitchell Robinson threw his weight around the interior, and Mobley and Allen couldn’t stop him. Other bruisers like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić, Brook Lopez and Jonas Valančiūnas might present problems containing their power. But Mobley’s strength is slowly but surely catching up to his intelligence. Fans can expect a big jump in impact from year two to three from what he is already defensively.
Allen is the perfect big man next to Mobley. He can switch and cover all areas, but he should get stronger too. Embiid and Giannis Antetkounmpo are also matchup problems if Cleveland has to face off with Philadelphia or Milwaukee.
In the regular season, Allen was seventh in offensive rebounding for players who qualified for league leaders. This type of dirty work is integral to the unit because it gives extra possessions to multiple lethal scorers on the Cavs.
J.A. was the role player who sacrificed his body repeatedly to get others open. Next season he should receive the rock more times on the roll.
Cleveland will need similar production as last season, but perhaps Allen can fill the leadership void in the locker room following Kevin Love’s departure.