Here’s why Team USA needs Evan Mobley in the 2024 Paris Olympics

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images /

Team USA has put forth back-to-back disappointing efforts in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, coming in seventh in 2019 and fourth in 2023. Recently, the Americans lost in the Semifinals to Germany because it couldn’t defend the 3-point line, its zone was impotent, and certain guys were hunted down in the second half. Against its North American neighbors (Canada), the once-tournament favorites gave up 127 points in 45 minutes and allowed the bronze winners to convert 45.9% of attempts from deep.

Coach Steve Kerr and Erik Spoelstra are supposed to be defense-first instructors, but as the former said, opponents didn’t feel Team USA on that side. But they should have. The latest iteration of the American basketball squadron is not as intimidating as previous groups. Yet, it was still the most talented team in the Cup, and it came home with nothing.

Serious changes are needed for the Americans to fix their reputation as the best in the international basketball business. A necessary alteration that’s inescapable is that the group needs better big men, unless, LeBron James and the NBA’s crème de la crème are summoned. There’s sweet talk about the latter happening, but I’ll believe it when I see it. If there’s a player that should get an invite to the next camp, it’s Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who has already proven to be a defensive savant.

Team USA needs Evan Mobley in the 2024 Olympics.

FIBA rules are perfect for Mobley because he can lock down the paint without leaving it. Jaren Jackson Jr. was supposed to be Team USA’s best interior defender and a threat on the glass. Even though he missed the final bout with Canada, due to an illness, Jackson left his feet and lunged at defenders too many times outside during the tournament, frustrating his coaches and observers. It can’t be forgotten either that he averaged 2.9 rebounds per game while standing at 6-foot-10. Sure, he switched onto the perimeter, but that number is stunningly low.

The rest of the bigs rotation was a dud. Paolo Banchero, a natural forward, wasn’t ready defensively, Bobby Portis perhaps never will be, and Walker Kessler was sparingly used. Going small will only get you so far if the five guys deployed can’t play on a string with each other defensively.

Mobley on the team would allow it to play big and small because he can get slotted at power forward or center. He can switch onto perimeter players, doesn’t bite on fakes as much as JJJ (Jackson), and his wingspan (7-foot-4) is the same. Additionally, Mobley holds an edge attacking the glass despite covering as much ground as he recovers 14.5 percent of his team’s rebounds, and Jackson picks up 10.8 percent for his career. Let’s not forget that Mobley is one of 22 players since 1969 to make an All-Defensive team in his first two campaigns, per Stathead (subscription required).

Of the three big men who competed for the USA in the World Cup, the one who fouls the least on opposing team plays is Banchero with 2.4 percent, but he doesn’t take up as many assignments as Jackson, and isn’t the backline protector Kessler is in the NBA. Yet, Mobley only gets called on penalties 3.2 percent of the time, placing him in the 81st percentile for his position (big), per Cleaning the Glass (subscription required).

Having a big who can bother each position and stay out of foul trouble is a premium. Jackson fouled his opponents five times in the game versus New Zealand in round one and picked up five more in the loss to Lithuania in round two.

Without a doubt, FIBA is a physical environment that catches NBAers off guard at times. Evan Mobley was horrible in his playoff debut because the strength of the New York Knicks’ backline overpowered him. However, the rule difference, which allows for parking in the lane in the international game, doesn’t force the man in the back to shift in and out of the paint, risking getting sealed by rivals. Since Mobley wouldn’t have to move from the box, there are fewer chances he can get caught on a player’s back hip and forced to front the pass.

Offensively, Cleveland’s No. 4 is a solid screener who buys his teammates and himself openings. Over six of the Cavaliers’ points per game come off screen assists from him, per’s hustle data. Mobley also puts pressure on the defense rolling to the cup after the pick or making off-ball cuts. At close range (less than five feet), Mobley makes 75.4 percent of his attempts and 50.6 percent of his tries come from this spot. And with decent assist numbers in the NBA (2.8), Mobley has shown he can work as a dribble hand-off hub at the elbows, and is seemingly in line to be more of a playmaking presence this coming season with Cleveland.

Final word

It will take a year for Team USA to avenge its loss in the FIBA Basketball World Cup at the 2024 Paris Olympics. As talented as the group was that miserably failed, its subsequent formation should have more difference-makers on defense. With respect to every player on the roster in 2023, Mobley is a stricter protector, even than the reigning Defensive Player of the Year (Jackson).

Next. The dream starting 5 for the Cleveland Cavaliers 5 years from now. dark

Evan Mobley should be the first big man called by Grant Hill, the managing director of Men’s Team USA Basketball.