Evan Mobley's Playoff surge forces the Cleveland Cavaliers to answer 1 big question

Evan Mobley is a center, and the Cleveland Cavaliers need to make a decision.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Charlotte Hornets
Cleveland Cavaliers v Charlotte Hornets / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been waiting to see Evan Mobley come through in big moments since drafting him third overall in 2021.

His rookie season showed signs of a generational defender with massive potential on offense. Through three regular seasons, the Cavaliers have not developed Mobley or increased his usage on offense enough to let him raise the team's ceiling. In his first two years, Mobley averaged 12 field goal attempts per game, and his third season only featured 11 attempts each night. This has created a narrative surrounding the young big man that his offensive talents are not worth the investment, and Cleveland may need to part ways if he cannot grow.

Growth only comes when nurtured. For all the success over the last few years for the Cavs, they have not successful given Mobley the runway to shine on offense. In his past few playoff performances, though, Mobley has been given new chances due to new circumstances, and it may force the Cavaliers to make major changes this summer.

After stellar defense against the Orlando Magic in Round One, Evan Mobley has emerged as Cleveland's second-best offensive option in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics, posting 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and one steal alongside one three-pointer from the top of the arc. The Cavaliers began Game 2 with an offense centered around Mobley aggressively attacking the rim, which quickly forced the Celtics to shift their defense and created gravity around Mobley. This opened opportunities for the rest of the Cavs, leading to the 21-point blowout in TD Garden.

ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst celebrated Mobley's sudden surge in the playoffs, stating that the Cavs could win the title within the next three seasons if Mobley consistently produces at this level on both sides of the ball. Mobley's growth followed the loss of Jarrett Allen to a severe rib injury, raising questions surrounding the Cavs' future for their towering starting frontcourt duo.

Evan Mobley is a center, and the Cleveland Cavaliers must make a change

For years, the Cavaliers have tried to make a starting frontcourt composed of two centers trying to mascarade Mobley as a power forward work consistently. Unfortunately, the best version of the Cavs has always had one of them off the court. All season, Cleveland searched for an answer to pair Mobley and Allen together with consistent success. In the regular season, Mobley and Allen posted a 0.9 net rating together, hardly creating a positive production for the Cavs. In the playoffs, it has dropped to -3.1 in four games together.

Both Mobley and Allen posted their best two-man net rating paired with Dean Wade, a versatile defender and dangerous perimeter shooter. Wade connected on 39.1 percent of his 3.7 three-point attempts per game this season, averaging 5.4 points and four rebounds. He served a pivotal role in Cleveland's winter run without Mobley or Darius Garland, showcasing the impact the Cavaliers find in floor spacers on offense. Since then, the questions surrounding Cleveland's chances to reach their ceiling without changing their frontcourt have risen drastically.

Since Allen's absence, Mobley's overall production has evolved as the Cavs have returned to their one-big lineup with four shooters around him. In five games without Allen, Mobley has averaged 13.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 3.0 blocks in 36 minutes per game. Mobley has still only had 10.2 field goal attempts per game, but his efficiency and aggression has vastly improved. Against Boston in Game 2, Mobley had undoubtedly his best postseason performance of his young career, attempting 15 field goals as the starting center.

Now, Mobley's latest playoff stretch seems to solidify the answer. The Cavaliers will limit their ceiling until they invest in the one-big-man construction. While Mobley would undeniably garner much greater interest on the trade market, the Cavs must choose the younger player with vastly greater potential than Allen. In recent offseasons, teams have reportedly shown interest in Allen trades, viewing him as a defensive anchor and elite lob threat. If the New Orleans Pelicans call regarding Allen's availability for the third summer in a row, the Cavaliers cannot hang up the phone. Mobley is ready to take over at the five spot, and his growth will define Cleveland's potential ceiling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will host the Boston Celtics in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday, May 11 for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals as Evan Mobley looks to recreate his dynamic work that led to the Cavs' first road victory in the playoffs under coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

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