Cavs: Grading Evan Mobley’s sophomore season thus far

Evan Mobley Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Evan Mobley Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NBA Draft brought plenty of talent into the NBA, such as the top two picks, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, or the reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. Now that this class’ sophomore season is in full swing, however, third overall pick Evan Mobley looks like the most advanced player out of his draft. Mobley finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting last season, and he now seems to have surpassed his competition.

Compared to his rookie season, Mobley’s numbers did not improve much yet, making only small statistical jumps. Considering that the Cavaliers brought in All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell over the summer, keeping his numbers consistent is quite the feat for Mobley, though. Mitchell takes up a lot of touches that Mobley could otherwise have gotten on offense. Nevertheless, Mobley still averages 15.2 points. The key to that is that he has become more efficient with his shots around the basket, shooting 55.6 percent on field goals.

Mobley is coming into his own on the offensive end.

Besides being more efficient on offense, Mobley also looks more confident, comfortable, and aggressive as a scorer. He is very patient with the ball in his hands, taking his time to work against strong-post players in the paint and bring the ball to the rim. While Mobley can certainly create his own shot and is doing it more often now, he also adjusted well and quickly to having two strong, ball-dominant guards Darius Garland and Mitchell running the show.

Compared to last season, he has improved as a pick-and-roll screener, which allows him to easily get involved with his guards. Mobley also knows where to be around the basket to get easy passes from guards on drives. That usually works out well for all parties involved because Mobley has a great touch around the basket, and Garland and company know how important it is to feed Mobley and let him figure out his offensive game.

The Cavaliers have a talented, young core, and three of them have already made it to at least one All-Star game. At 21, Mobley is the youngest of the bunch, but he might also be the piece of the puzzle with the most potential, and a big part of the Cavaliers’ future rests on his shoulders. For now, Mobley is more of a third- or fourth-option option on offense and sometimes has quiet games against strong defenses, but his production suggests that he could be more in the future.

Mobley is already good on the defensive end.

His defense, on the other hand, is much more complete already, anchoring the Cavaliers’ top-six team defense. Their guards put in all the necessary work on defense, and Isaac Okoro and Lamar Stevens hound the most lethal scorers every game, but Mobley and fellow big man Jarrett Allen are the true backbones of the Cavaliers’ defense.

Seeing two seven-footers in the paint with the reputation of being elite shot blockers and awfully switchable defenders persuades most opponents to just stay out on the perimeter. But even there, players are not safe from Mobley’s defensive presence, as he seems to be everywhere on the floor and is quick enough to stay with smaller ballhandlers.

As a result, attacking the Cavaliers’ paint and their resident big men does not turn out well for many players. In theory, there should be open kick-out passes and holes in the rotating defense when you break into the paint, but when you are playing against the Cavaliers, there are just arms and hands everywhere, blocking the passes. Grabbing a rebound in that environment is equally difficult, as Mobley and Allen gobble up everything in sight. In only his second season, Mobley has already grabbed 1,000 rebounds and averages 8.9 per game.

Besides being big, Mobley is also very mobile for his size, which makes him the ultimate help-defender. Allen usually guards big men in the paint, giving Mobley the freedom to move around and soar in wherever he is needed on the defensive end. This is very similar to how the Memphis Grizzlies use Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Jaren Jackson Jr. in combination with Steven Adams and suggests that Mobley might soon be in that very same conversation.

As of now, Mobley averages 2.8 fouls, which is fewer than most of the top defenders in the league, but he can also play high-level defense without committing any fouls at all. His career-high 8 blocks against the Detroit Pistons, for example, came without a single foul, which ranks 8th-best all-time in that category.

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Mobley’s improvement might not spring out to viewers, but his game is clearly still growing, and his sophomore season has been stellar so far. He is outplaying many of his draft classmates, who were expected to have brighter futures in the league. It is only a matter of time until the youngster will make an All-Star squad and All-Defensive First Team, as he will inevitably enter the conversation as one of the best defenders in the NBA.