With great expectations come great responsibilities. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley set a high goal for himself in February, one that could foreshadow just how far the blossoming big can go in his NBA career.
“Being an All Star, being a top guy in the league, I’ve always envisioned that,” Mobley said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “I definitely have high hopes. I’m just going to keep striving to get better and better so I can be that.”
Evan Mobley finished his second season in the league with signs of improvement on both sides of the floor. The 7-foot forward ended with averages of 16.2 points, nine rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in 79 games and 79 starts, good enough to put him at third on the team in points per outing behind Cavs guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland.
But his growing pains during the playoffs showed he still has some ways to go.
Though he ended a Game 2 Playoff win over the New York Knicks with a much-needed 13-point and 13-rebound double-double, the 21-year-old and center Jarrett Allen combined for 11 rebounds in Game 4 and 11 in Game 5.
Did Evan Mobley live up to the expectations placed upon him during the 2022-23 season? And where can the young forward go from here?
The stat sheet won’t show giant leaps of improvement for Evan Mobley on offense.
But he did take small steps of progress during his second year with the Cavaliers.
Mobley’s field goal percentage improved by 4.6% from his freshman to his sophomore season in the league, peaking at a 90% field goal percentage during an 11-point win over the Orlando Magic in December. He dove and weaved through the Magic’s defense for put-back attempts and pushed his way in the post for opportunities on the block. The USC product highlighted the night with a bounding Euro Step past Orlando forward Paolo Banchero for a dunk with just seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Garland showed confidence in Evan Mobley’s shot in late February, just a few days after the forward scored 18 points and hit seven of his 14 shot attempts in a 118-93 win over the Toronto Raptors at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
“He has that chip on his shoulder,” Garland said. “He believes he’s one of the best in this league. We all do in this gym. We want him to show that.
“He’s been just going full speed, downhill. Being aggressive at all times in the game. Shooting the middy going 1-on-1. We love his aggressiveness.”
Mitchell and Garland still carried a massive load on offense during the regular and postseason.
The Cavs guards averaged 28.3 and 21.6 points per game during the regular season, respectively. Their usage rating, or “the percentage of team plays used by a player on the floor,” were 29.6% and 26.5% during the playoffs, according to NBA.com. Mitchell’s rate put him just above Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn Nets forward Mikal Bridges. Garland took spots behind Celtics guard Jaylen Brown and Knicks forward Julius Randle.
Mobley’s production on offense dipped as the playoffs came around. Though he tied with Allen at 15 total offensive rebounds through the 5-game series, he averaged 9.8 points per game on a 45.8% field goal percentage.
Evan Mobley must continue improving his outside shot and overall strength to become a more effective player on offense. He made 15.8% of his 57 attempts from 20-24 feet and 36.4% of his 107 shots from 10-14 feet during the regular season, according to NBA.com. He shot a total of 22 attempts from five feet and beyond during the NBA playoffs, making two of his 14 shots from 5-9 feet in the postseason.
Mobley’s growth on offense will be vital in making him a valuable part of the Cavaliers for years to come.
But, in the end, it’s defense that wins championships.
Evan Mobley was a finalist for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, joining Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez. Though it would be Jackson Jr. who would ultimately take the award, Mobley would earn a spot on the All-Defensive First Team.
“I know he has always had the talent to do it, the talent to be able to be the best defender in the league, and this year he showed why,” Allen said earlier this month, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor. “This year he kind of got out of his shell, was more assertive knowing that he could get away with more stuff and be the best defender he can be.”
Mobley ended the season with averages of 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during the 2022-23 season. He blocked as many as eight shots during a win over the Detroit Pistons in November, highlighted by a near-mid-air grab as he denied an attempt from Pistons forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Evan Mobley has already shown he can be a reliable defender for the Cavaliers during his sophomore year. But, like on offense, he will need to bulk up to keep opposing bigs at bay during the early stages of the playoffs and beyond.
Evan Mobley will have to build his strength during the offseason to become a more intimidating presence on the interior. Having the power to push around forwards and centers on the block, along with an improved jumper from the mid-range and beyond the 3-point arc, will make him a much more impactful player on offense.
Fortunately, Evan Mobley is already taking steps to add some muscle in the offseason.
“Mobley’s skill set gives him sky-high potential, and the Cavs see him as a budding star in the league,” Akron Beacon Journal writer Ryan Lewis wrote in an early-May article. “In his second year, he scored 16.2 points per game and finished third in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting. But at 7-0 and 215 pounds, he’s looking to add to his frame heading into year three by adding an in-home weight room.
“Mobley shared that with Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman when the two met for an end-of-the-season conversation.”
If he continues to build upon his strengths, one can only wonder how far the 21-year-old will go under the guidance of the Cavs roster and coaching staff.