Center of Attention

Center of Attention

Cavs Rookie Evan Mobley Making His Mark in the Middle

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
3/15/22 | Cavs.com

The fact that Evan Mobley isn’t the NBA’s runaway for Rookie of the Year speaks to the overall strength of this year’s Draft class.

And whether the former Trojan actually takes home the hardware or not – (smart money says he will) – there simply isn’t a rookie in the Association who’s been more of a lynchpin for team success than Mobley. He’s not the sole reason for Cleveland’s surprising season, but it’s also not a coincidence that the 2021-22 Cavaliers are now just two victories away from equaling their win total from the previous two campaigns combined.

Mobley is already unlike any rookie the franchise has ever seen – equally skilled on both ends. His talent for the game is instinctive, innate. An intense competitor who seems to challenge every shot, he does it all with the poise and patience of a 10-year veteran.

Mobley also grasps the situation his squad finds itself in with just a handful of games remaining and the Playoff push in full swing.

And in just his fourth game at center while Jarrett Allen recuperates from a fractured finger, the No. 3 overall pick this past July had one of the best games of his burgeoning career – finishing with a game-high 30 points, going 13-for-22 from the floor, adding six boards, two steals and a pair of blocks in a monster win over the Clippers.

”(Mobley) understands the moment, and it’s that simple,” praised Coach J.B. Bickerstaff following the win. “The conversation we had about the sense of urgency and the importance of these final 15 games, he took it to heart. And then, on top of it, he’s got the skill to impact winning. And he was phenomenal.”

Evan Mobley leads his rookie class in field goal percentage, blocks, rebounds and double-doubles.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE Getty Images

But success at the 5 isn’t a new development, either. In those four games since moving to center, Mobley is averaging 22.0 points and 8.5 boards per, adding nine dimes, nine steals and six blocked shots with two double-doubles in the mix.

Of course, his recent baptism-by-fire is about to get much, much hotter as Joel Embiid and the Sixers roll in on Wednesday and Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets come to town two night later.

“It’s a challenge every game,” said the soft-spoken southern Californian – who leads all rookies in rebounding, blocked shots, field goal percentage and double-doubles. “All those bigs are very good and have a great skillset. I’m going to have to step up for the team and defend them as best I can.”

When Allen finally does return to his spot in the middle, Mobley will have been steeled by his experience at center – and likely take it out on power forward from there.

”It’s just the confidence of knowing that he’s capable (of playing center),” said Coach Bickerstaff. “When Jarrett does come back and they’re back together, it’s the same thing when they put smaller guys on him. He’s banging with these guys and getting to his spot. (When he moved back) he’s taller, longer and it’ll be easier to get to his spot. The physicality will make it easier for him.”

Mobley also became just the fourth Cavaliers rookie in team history to swat at least 100 shots on the season – and his meter is still purring – with his final block on Monday night, smushing Ivaca Zubac on a put-back attempt early in the overtime session.

“He’s impressed me all season – it’s not just tonight,” said Isaac Okoro, who himself had an outstanding performance against L.A. “He keeps on improving and improving as the games go on, but seeing him do that is special.”

When asked if anything the precocious rookie has done this year that’s surprised him, Okoro’s answer was simple.

”We’ve seen him since he first got here,” smiled the sophomore from Auburn. “Nothing surprises us. It might surprise y’all, but it doesn’t surprise us.”

Monday night’s effort for Mobley marked his 31st game of the season with multiple blocks – including nine games with at least three rejections, four with four and a five-block effort in early December against Chicago. (Mobley also has 14 games with multiple steals, including a five-steal showing in his first game in the middle, last Friday’s win over Indiana.)

"We’ve seen him since he first got here. Nothing surprises us. It might surprise y’all, but it doesn’t surprise us."

Mobley is 4th in the Eastern Conference in blocks (1.66bpg) and 3rd in the entire NBA in shots contested per game at 12.3.

”He can change a game,” said Bickerstaff. “He’s elite with his timing and quickness and ability to read guys when they leave their feet – and block guys’ shots without fouling. It makes it extremely difficult for guys who go in there. They’re throwing up ‘Hail Marys’ – they can’t see the rim; he’s covering them up.”

Of course, there’s also Mobley’s rapidly emerging offensive game.

After a slow start to the month of March, the young big has rediscovered his rhythm – netting double-figure scoring in each of the last five games, with two 20-point performances and his 30-point tour de force on Monday night.

”I just came out and was aggressive,” said Mobley. “That’s what I’ve been doing the last few games and I feel like it’s been helping our team a lot. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

The 20-year-old, who’s already drawn comparisons to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, has notched double-digits in all but 10 games through his rookie year – with 11 games topping the 20-point plateau – and is shooting just over 50 percent from the floor.

Where Mobley and his young mates go from here has Cavalier fans on the edge of their seats. There are 14 games to play – and the NBA postseason is calling Cleveland back after a four-year absence.

The Wine & Gold’s lithe young lion looks ready to lead the way.