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Versatile Southern Cal Standout Should Be the First Big Off the Board
It was almost five years ago – January 2016 – that Kevin Durant, then with the Thunder, coined the NBA expression “unicorn” while speaking to the New York media about Kristaps Porzingis, then with the Knicks.
The quickest definition of an NBA unicorn is essentially this: a 7-footer with a guard’s skillset.
But it’s more than that. A true NBA unicorn – like Durant himself – makes you stop and say: ‘I can’t BELIEVE a 7-footer is doing that!’
Players like Durant – and still, at times, Porzingis – are called that because of how rarely they come along. But this year’s Draft might just have a unicorn within the Wine & Gold’s reach.
USC’s Evan Mobley racked up about every Pac-12 award possible, including Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year – becoming just the second player from major conference to win that trifecta, joining fellow NBA unicorn, Anthony Davis, who did so in 2012.
While Mobley’s got a long way to go and a lot to prove before reaching A.D.’s level, the Brow is his most common comparison. They both began as guards as youngsters before big growth spurts. And they’re both equally lethal on both ends of the court. Mobley was the Pac-12’s sixth-best scorer (16.8ppg) and led the Conference in rebounding (8.7rpg) and blocks (3.0bpg).
In a very deep Draft, the Southern California native has separated himself as its best big man. And in terms of the modern-day center, Mobley is essentially the prototype.
In his single season at USC – 33 games – Mobley notched double-figure scoring in all but two, with 10 games of 20-points plus. He tallied 12 double-doubles – including a pair in the NCAA Tournament, where he led the Trojans to the Elite 8 before falling to Gonzaga.
On the defensive end, Mobley blocked at least two shots in 24 games this year – including four contests with four rejections, three with five (including back-to-back contests in the Pac-12 Tourney) and three more with six. His 95 total swats were second overall in the NCAA.
Barring any wild developments over the next two-and-a-half weeks, the 20-year-old from Murrieta, CA will be the first big man off the board in the 2021 Draft. The only questions will be how soon he comes off it and where he winds up?
STRENGTHS Starting with Mobley’s size, he’s a legitimate 7-footer with a huge 7-4 wingspan. At around 215, he’ll need to pack on a few pounds, but he just turned 20 in June and has the frame to do so.
It’s when you match the size with his two-way skillset that things get interesting. He moves end-to-end with grace in transition, handles the ball with ease and is an explosive leaper around the rim.
Offensively, Mobley can score from all three levels. He’s a nightmare as a screener in the pick-and-roll but can generate his own shot – a rarity for most seven-footers. He can shoot over most players – and displays a nice soft touch – and is far too quick for clunkier big men. He has a nice array of shots – from a smooth mid-range jumper to jump-hooks over both shoulders.
Mobley is also a very good passer – from the post, the perimeter or on the outlet – using not only his size, but his basketball IQ and instincts.
Defensively, he has a chance to be a true NBA difference-maker in the NBA. He’s got the quickness and the footwork to stick with smaller players on the perimeter and is obviously a shot-eraser around the rim. He’s a lethal shot-blocker with both hands and does so without getting into foul trouble.
The Pac-12’s leader on the glass, Mobley also excels as a rebounder on both ends. He grabbed double-digit boards in a dozen games as a freshman, nine of those with at least four off the offensive glass.
WEAKNESSES One of Mobley’s few weaknesses is something that’s easily overcome – the need to bulk up for battle at the next level. At just 215 pounds, he’ll get pushed around by some of the league’s beefier big men.
Mobley has shown the ability to hit the long-ball – drilling 12 triples – but that was on 40 attempts, hitting more than one in a game only once as a freshman. By the same token, Mobley has the smooth stroke that should allow him to improve with work as a pro.
At this stage, Mobley is more comfortable in face-up situations than with his back to the basket. Right now, he doesn’t have a solid post-up game to rely on – but, again, that should develop with more work.
HOW HE'D FIT Based on all of the above – it seems like Evan Mobley would fit in just fine.
The Wine & Gold have bolstered their backcourt and wing positions in the past three Drafts and completely re-made their center spot with a pair of separate deals last season. And while both Jarrett Allen and Isaiah Hartenstein were very good – and in Allen’s case, outstanding – they’re both free agents this summer.
That’s not to say that Cleveland couldn’t pair up Mobley with one or both of last year’s bigs. While he’s an excellent rim-protector, he’s not yet a banger in the blocks, and has all the skills to slide over to the 4.
The point is, with a player as talented as Mobley, the Cavaliers could make it work.
Will they? We’ll know soon enough.