The preseason works to get the regulars into physical and mental shape, plus it’s an opportunity for lineup experimentation and for some players to make a final impression and earn a roster spot. There’s another certainty: Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks ready to make a significant third-year leap.
Two exhibition games are in the books for the Cavaliers, with a pair left against Maccabi Ra’anana and the Indiana Pacers. So far, Mobley hasn’t missed (six-of-six) less than five feet from the basket, and he is logging 53.3 percent of his attempts through 38 minutes.
Mobley looks slightly bulkier, but he’s still got a long way to go before his body fills out. On Thursday, he guarded Paolo Banchero, and his counterpart looked to pass instead of taking him off the dribble on most plays.
Defensively, nothing changed; he’s already elite on that end. He still processes what opposing offenses are running a half-second quicker than anyone on the court. While in the backline versus the Magic, he trailed the inside pass quickly and pinned Anthony Black’s layup to the glass. Covering the Atlanta Hawks, he rejected Jalen Johnson’s inside drive, switched a bit to the outside and was the anchor of the 2-3 zone when flashed.
Offensively, he’s moved well without the ball, relocating and setting screens, picking up a few rebounds, but his limited strength can still get him in trouble. Bumping into Orlando’s Wendell Carter Jr., he was roadblocked and forced into a tough 14-foot hook shot. He recovered by tracking his miss, finishing at close range. But trying to post Carter again compelled him to pass out, instead running a prosperous pick-and-roll set with Garland.
And the one triple he tried, in front of Carter, who was slowed down by a pick, kissed the iron. Eventually, he must convert open treys, but commanding the paint is more important.
Although, there was a hint of nice setups by Mobley, who Cleveland is looking to utilize as a playmaker more this season. He hit Strus cutting into the lane with a bounce pass from the key, absorbing multiple defenders before the kickout to Darius Garland in the corner. This same action was run again later in the first, but with Mobley feeding Donovan Mitchell the connecting pass.
He also had a successful dribble handoff that caused both defenders to tag the roll, leaving DG open inside the left wing. Midway through the first quarter, on a play that went nowhere, Mobley received the inside pass and two Orlando defenders swarmed him. He dissected the help by hitting Damian Jones in the dunker spot, but he traveled.
In the exhibition season, Mobley has looked like a sharper version of himself from last year, but for the team to achieve its goals, it will need more from him. He can’t just be one of the top role players in the league anymore, not while Mitchell hasn’t extended in The Land.
Before preseason is up, the Cavaliers should have Mobley hunt down smaller players in the post to create spacing when help comes. As a 75.4 percent shooter within five feet of the basket last season, a large portion of these points come on a roll/cut, and a smaller chunk are putbacks, but he has shown an ability to hit a hook shot.
The next step in his offensive development is becoming a player who can create his own shot on a consistent basis.