The Cleveland Cavaliers have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA through 46 games amid Evan Mobley's return, but there are still challenges ahead for the young star to prove himself.
After the Cavaliers survived a slugfest against the Memphis Grizzlies, they built their hot streak up to four consecutive wins and won both games of a back-to-back. In both of Cleveland's games, it was apparent just how long it had been since their entire core had played together. Evan Mobley did not appear in the second game against the Grizzlies, but the Cavs could assert themselves with him and Darius Garland back against the Detroit Pistons.
Narrowly escaping Motor City with a win, the Cavaliers need to emphasize integrating their stars into their new system. This will take time, as six weeks without either Mobley or Garland is nothing easy to overcome. With a 17-4 record in their last 21 games, Cleveland has been one of the NBA's most resilient teams in recent years. The next challenge will be to maintain their determination and not fall into complacency before the postseason.
After holding the second-highest volume of three-point attempts over the last six weeks, the Cavaliers have reverted to a less dynamic offense, placing fourteenth with 35 three-point attempts per game in their last two matchups. With Garland back in the starting lineup, the Cavs theoretically have added another lethal shooter onto the court, but the results have been less-than-stellar. Setbacks were bound to happen with both players returning, and the Cavaliers will likely focus on reattaining their previous fast and free-flowing offense in time.
Aside from Garland, the return of Mobley has given Cleveland both answers and questions. The questions do not only revolve around his fit with Jarrett Allen. In their upcoming game with the Spurs, Allen may not appear due to a left ankle sprain. The individual questions for Mobley revolve around his offensive development. His scoring has shown only marginal growth while falling behind in other areas. His three-point shot has not manifested at all, leaving many to question his ultimate ceiling as an offensive threat.
The Cavaliers need to make Evan Mobley the focal point against Spurs
Their game against the 10-39 San Antonio Spurs offers the ideal chance for Mobley to take the steering wheel and insert himself into the forefront of Cleveland's gameplan in a marquee matchup against star rookie Victor Wembanyama. The Association's growing pool of versatile and young big men has created a competitive environment waiting for the next superstar center to emerge. Mobley and Wembanyama are two of the most prominent names in this discussion, but Mobley's sluggish development and long injury have put him behind Wemby in the national conversation.
Mobley returned from knee surgery exactly six weeks after he stepped away from the Cavs, and his determination to get back to action displayed a desire to win and become what the NBA world thinks he can be. Mobley has the potential to be a historic NBA unicorn with his stifling and varied defense, and his offense shows glimpses of true superstar potential. The issue has been the realization of it, especially on his jump shot.
While the former USC Trojan will not miraculously develop into Kristaps Porzingis on offense, Mobley cannot allow Wemby to outperform him offensively when both players are on the hardwood. As he rehabs from injury, Mobley will remain on a 20-24 minute restriction, but he will still have plenty of opportunity to go head-to-head with the rising French star.
Wembanyama has already garnered endless intrigue for his defense, and he has also already surpassed Mobley with 20.6 points per game and 30.1 percent from deep on five attempts each night. Conversely, Mobley averaged roughly 16 points and 10 rebounds before his knee surgery. He shoots under one three-pointer per game, as well. While Wembanyama has already become the number one option for the Spurs, Mobley is the third option for the Cavs on his best nights. Mobley does not have the usage to take over the offense every night, but his repetitive scoring choices leave much to be desired that Wembanyama offers.
As the Cavaliers continue to invest their future into Evan Mobley, putting him in a position to shine in key matchups will allow him to recognize his potential. The Cavs cannot afford to lose every game to let Mobley shoot, but this Spurs matchup needs to put Mobley more into the center of the offense to see him withstand a challenge and rebuild his confidence in his limited minutes, especially if Allen is absent for the game.
In a perfect world, the Cavaliers could rely on either Mobley or Donovan Mitchell to set the tone for the squad on a night-to-night basis. The combination of an elite scoring guard and a ferocious young big man is Cleveland's best recipe for success. They witnessed the potential of the duo with Mitchell and Allen over the absences of Garland and Mobley, meaning a fully realized Mobley could catapult the Cavs to the top of the NBA.
Mobley's first chance to take his next leap in the NBA is now, even on restricted playing time. The Cleveland Cavaliers will enter Front Bank Center for an 8:30 pm Eastern Time tipoff. Bally Sports Ohio will televise the game for local Ohio fans.