How Evan Mobley is blossoming into more than just a defensive star

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley plays against the San Antonio Spurs in the first half of an NBA basketball game on Monday, February 13, 2023, in Cleveland.  (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley dribbles against the San Antonio Spurs in the first half on Monday, February 13, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

As the Cavaliers traveled to Salt Lake City on January 10, most of the NBA watching world focused on the most powerful narrative of the moment: Donovan Mitchell’s first game in Utah since he was traded to a royal ransom. But after the plucky Jazz walked away with a win despite Mitchell hanging 46 on his old comrades, ESPN commentator Kendrick Perkins focused not on that comeback but on coming – or rather, how he felt. hasn’t happened yet.

Where the hell is Evan Mobley? At first glance, this seemed like a fair question. With your superstar and not much extra attacks elsewhere, you might want to see your runner-up Rookie of the Year score a little more points. Instead, Mobley scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting—a muted performance that largely reflected what the 2021 NBA draft’s No. 3 pick had scored in the first half of the season.

Do some digging, though, and you’ll start to see this “muted production” in a broader context. Mobley’s front line partner Jarrett Allen was ill and left the game after only six minutes. This meant that Mobley had to move to the center, where he was responsible for getting Mitchell and Darius Garland free in the pick and roll (according to Second Spectrum, he planted 30 balls, eight more than the average for the season ), spurring Cleveland on. Shooters away from the action (22 screens from the ball, seven more than usual) And serves as a connective tissue that supports the movement of the ball from one side of the floor to the other (it threw more passes than any Cav except Garland).

It’s just offended. Across the floor, Mobley had to struggle to keep breakout rookie Walker Kessler from an attacking glass. And reach for the arc to pull shifts around the perimeter of the players armed Trainer Will Hardy’s Five-Move Attack. It’s a jazz crime that takes third in the NBA in offensive efficiencyaveraged per season in 11 minutes Mobley wasn’t on the floor. He scored 2.4 points per 100 possessions. below that’s Mobley’s 37-minute average…during which he blocked four shots by scoring three deviations, caught an interception and held Utah to 6 of the 13 try throws he contested. (jazz gone 12 out of 17 against any other cavalry.)

It’s one game, but it’s educational – an object lesson in how Mobley’s influence can show up everywhere, even if it’s not clear in the most obvious columns of the stat sheet.

“A lot of development [for top picks] is an opportunity.” – Cavs Coach JB Bickerstaff told reporters last month. “When you get picked as high as these guys, you tend to be on a team that is in development mode and your best players are the ones that get the most reps, the guys with the most potential.”

This was not the case with Mobley. He joined a team that included three All-Star players (Garland, Allen and Lauri Markkanen) as well as a number of other established forwards (Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Colleen Sexton, Carys LeVert, Cedi Osman). ). He was supposed to take his place on the Cavaliers team, which shocked many observers. Fight for first place in the Eastern Conference before a series of injuries kept them out of the play-in tournament.

The trade of Markkanen and Sexton also didn’t create an offensive void for Mobley, because the deal brought back Mitchell, a legitimate No. 1 option who finished in the NBA’s top 10 in usage rate in three of the last four seasons. Among players who have played at least 15 matches and spent at least 15 minutes per game on average, Mobley ranks first. 71st in the NBA in touches per game; He shoot less than he did as a rookie.

However, Mobley didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it’s because the recipe seems to work: The Cavs boast top 10 offense and the best league. second best points differential. They are on a seven-game winning streak at 38-22 overall, just one game short of the 76ers, who finished third in the East ahead of Wednesday night’s final showdown.

“Some guys have to be real guys” – Mobley. recently told reporters. “I don’t have to be the ‘boy’ on this team.”

Regardless: those surrounding the Cavs continue to suggest that Mobley is closer to being a “guy” than you think.

“There is a version of Evan that will dominate this league.” – Bickerstaff said. “I think we’ve seen it all the time in defensive moments, but there’s also an attacking version and I think it’s going to happen.”

Mobley’s defensive integrity is almost bulletproof at this point. He’s 8th in the NBA blocks per game and adds about three combined steals And deviations for 36 minutes of playing time. He is seventh in number of shots per game and fourth in contested three-pointers, using his elite combination of length and agility to excel as a rubber band, snapping inside to protect the rim before reaching out to protect the perimeter. Cavs allow you to score 110.5 points per 100 ball possessions without trash. when Mobley and Allen team up complete the interior – the top five; With Mobley at 5 and Allen off the floorthey allowed the microscopic 105.7 points on 100. (Bickerstaff has also ranked Mobley among the top perimeter scorers of late – against DeMar DeRozan against DeMar DeRozan. ChicagoBrandon Ingram vs. Residents of New Orleansand Jimmy Butler vs. Miami — this could be a preview of how Cleveland could line up in the postseason against teams with big playmakers that might be too big for Isaac Okoro and too fast for Dean Wade.)

Attack Jump is what Perk and many others have been waiting for… and maybe it’s starting:

Considering Mitchell has been limited by a groin injury lately and his shot is cooling down – well, before last weekAt the very least, Cleveland needed another source of high-impact attack, and Mobley stepped up. After that loss to Utah, he averaging 18.8 ppg on 55.7% shooting, s usage rate almost 5% higher than in first half of the season; its performance from elbows and in paint far from earlier this yeartoo much.

Mobley has not yet achieved consistent comfort in his jumper; only about 14% of his shots this season have come from over 14 feet. Glass cleaninghe just shoots 30% out of paint. But just because he didn’t go down the most obvious path to improving offensively doesn’t mean he hasn’t gotten better, or that Cleveland can’t put more attacks through him.

Over the past month, Mobley has continued to hunt for open spaces in defense and has enjoyed his appearance with his daily bread: Allen hi-lows as he rolls to the rim, and Mobley cuts from around the corner, and resets passes from Garland and Mitchell when he hiding in a dunker spot or diving into a pick-and-roll. But it also showcases a wider variety of ways to get buckets.

He scatters floats on a short throw and attacks from triple threat with aggressive shots to the ring. He intercepts the ball at the ring and flies from coast to coast, overtaking the defenders with the help of eurosteps and fast spins after the bounce. He does more concerted efforts attack smaller opponents when the defense switches guards to him. As he gets deeper into the paint, he uses the patience and timing that makes him a great under-the-rim defender against his peers, using various head and shoulder imitations to get blockers airborne and clear a path to the cup.

The predatory 215-pound Mobley can’t cut through a lot of NBA defensemen just yet; during Monday’s victory over the Spurs, he struggled to separate himself from the larger Charles Bassey. But while more physical defenders can still push him off the ground or off balance as he climbs upwards, Mobley has looked more comfortable lately, using his 7ft 4in wingspan to counter that physical force while climbing over top with soft. touch half hooks and roundhouse jumps – the kinds of punches he can execute through outstretched arms of blocking shots with his high release point, allowing him to continue to be effective on the track even if he can’t bulldoze his way to the edge.

A more varied menu of options on how to hit the ball into the hole has paid off: Mobley shooting 66.1% inside eight feet and 83% in the restricted area for the last 18 games. This good work was rewarded with even more work: after 15 or more shots, just 19 times in his first 112 pro appearancesMobley has now done it seven times in the last 15.

“Whenever he has a mismatch, I want him to tell me to pass the ball to him.” – Garland told reporters last month, after Mobley scored a season-high 38 points on 19-of-27 shooting in a win over Milwaukee. “I want him to get a little angry when…


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