The Cleveland Cavaliers had a shaky start to the season, hampered by the injury absences of key players, but they're 7-3 in their last 10 games heading into Wednesday night's game against the Orlando Magic.
More importantly, the Cavaliers have regained their defensive edge. Last season they had the league's No. 1 defense, but through 10 games this season they were stuck in the middle of the pack. Over their past 10 games, however, the Cavs have had the league's third-best defense, a hair behind the Los Angeles Lakers and a few points behind the Oklahoma City Thunder's luck-boosted defense. In fact, Dunks & Threes has Cleveland already back to No. 3 for the season in adjusted defensive rating, which takes into account the strength of schedule and luck.
Evan Mobley is having another excellent season
The Cavs finding their footing on defense is good news for their best defensive player. When the Cavs were struggling as a team and as a defense it was easy to lose sight of the elite impact that Evan Mobley was having. Now that they are back to strangling opposing offenses, he has a platform to receive recognition for how he continues to improve on that end of the court.
Mobley ranks near the top of the league in virtually every defensive all-in-one metric. He is third in Defensive EPM (Estimated Plus-Minus), adding 3.1 points per 100 possessions of value. Seth Partnow's proprietary Rim Protection stat had Evan Mobley first in the league per the Dunc'd On podcast.
Traditional defensive stats also speak well of Mobley. He is averaging a career-high defensive rebound percentage and is seventh in the league with 8.0 defensive rebounds per game. His 1.7 blocks per game ranks 10th, and he's one of just two non-centers in the Top 10.
Opponents are shooting just 64.4 percent at the rim against the Cavaliers, fourth-best in the league, and just 50.4 percent overall from 2-point range, fifth-best in the league. Mobley is elite not only at deterring shots at the rim as the primary defender, he is one of the league's best weakside shot-blockers.
Mobley has established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league; what are his odds of winning Defensive Player of the Year? He'll need to continue playing well, of course, and likewise need the Cavaliers to stay in the Top 5 defenses as a team. That combination placed him first overall on the quarter-season award ballot of Dunc'd On's Danny Leroux, and second on Nate Duncan's.
Is Evan Mobley the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year?
Who are the other contenders for the award? Chet Holmgren is a longshot but is blocking everything in sight for one of the league's better defenses. The Orlando Magic have a platoon of defenders so there isn't a clear favorite, although Jalen Suggs is a monster at the point of attack. It's the same in Houston, and Dillon Brooks is likely their best All-Defense candidate. The Boston Celtics could offer up a number of candidates, including Jrue Holiday and Derrick White. Brook Lopez of the Milwaukee Bucks is keeping them afloat.
There are only a couple of obvious challengers keeping pace with Mobley at this point. Rudy Gobert is a two-time winner a strong candidate this season. He looks as spry as ever defending the paint and is the anchor on the league's No. 1 defense. Joel Embiid is having a better defensive season than last year, when he won the MVP award. Anthony Davis is healthy and walling off the paint for the Lakers. Bam Adebayo is doing everything for the Miami Heat.
There is still plenty of time for other contenders to emerge, but that means there is also time for Evan Mobley to continue to build his resume as the best defensive player in basketball. It's not an outrageous claim anymore, and the Cavaliers will be counting on him to continue elevating them on that end of the court. If he does, he could have some hardware in his future.