The Cleveland Cavaliers turned their once-disappointing season around with Evan Mobley watching from the bench. JB Bickerstaff’s team went 15-7 while Mobley recovered from surgery on his left knee, revamping its offensive attack to prioritize three-pointers and ball and player movement. Only the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies took more of their shots from long-range than the Cavs during Mobley’s absence.

Cleveland has hardly gone in the tank since its franchise big man returned to the court on January 29th. The Cavs are 11-4 with Mobley back in the fold, the third-best record in basketball over that timeframe, scoring and defending at almost exactly the same rates as when he was out. Their share of threes has dipped from 45.9% to 42.8%, though, a consequence of Bickerstaff going back to more lineups featuring both Mobley and Jarrett Allen up front.

Allen is no floor-spacer at center, instead creating gravity offensively with hard-charging rolls to the rim that often end in high-flying dunks. The court will only open up enough for Allen to consistently catch lobs and finish dump-offs when Cleveland plays four shooters around him, though, just one of the reasons why it’s so crucial for the team’s current prospects and long-term future for Mobley to continue developing his jumper.

During his recent appearance on The Old Man and the Three, Allen told host JJ Redick that he and his teammates have been imploring Mobley to let fly from deep.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Allen answered when asked if he’s encouraging Mobley to shoot triples. “Every time, yeah, we want him to shoot threes. I mean every time he shoots, especially nowadays, I think it’s going in easily.”

Why Evan Mobley’s shooting looms so large to the Cavs’ present and future

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Cleveland took a calculated risk by signing Allen to a five-year contract extension shortly after selecting Mobley with the third overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. While both seven-footers are mobile for their size, with Mobley capable of switching onto smalls and Allen also able to hold his own on the perimeter defensively, the Cavs’ offense was always going to be a work in progress playing a pair of traditional bigs.

The hope was that Mobley would eventually extend his shooting range to beyond the arc, affording Cleveland the best of both worlds offensively and defensively by committing to a twin tower look up front. Over halfway through his third season, Mobley’s growth as a three-point shooter has been somewhat disappointing. He’s up to a personal best of 34.4% on triples this season, but his three-point rate is down to a minuscule career-low of .081, with defenses effectively treating Mobley as a non-shooter.

The result? Bickerstaff has grown more comfortable than ever separating Mobley and Allen when it matters most, with them averaging only 4.4 minutes per game together in the fourth quarter this season. The Cavs’ offensive rating with Mobley and Allen playing in the fourth is a ghastly 100.0, second-lowest among the 26 Cleveland tandems that have notched at least 100 minutes in the final stanza.

The good news for the Cavs is that Mobley has been a bit more aggressive from three since getting back in the lineup in late January. He’s shooting an encouraging 40.9% on long balls over his last 14 appearances, creeping up to 1.6 attempts per game.

Cleveland would be much better off offensively if Mobley upped that volume further, forcing opponents to respect him while spotting up on the weak-side or popping to the arc after ball screens. Deploying two small guards like Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland will only work defensively against top-tier playoff competition with two elite rim-protectors like Mobley and Allen plugging holes behind them.

Can Mobley become enough of a threat from three to ensure Bickerstaff closes games more often with both he and Allen in the frontcourt? That hopeful development represents the Cavs’ highest ceiling, but seems unlikely to come to fruition before the end of 2023-24.

Don’t count Allen among the many who’ve lost faith in Mobley becoming that type of reliable long-range shooter, though. He knows the 22-year-old is only just scratching the surface of his ultimate potential, and needs all the encouragement he can get to reach it.

“For me just try to give him all the confidence that he can have, especially like he was a [No. 3] pick being more on the raw side, you know still having to be developed, people are going to eat that up,” Allen told Redick of Mobley. “People are going to try to put out stuff, ‘Oh, he’s not developing. Oh, he’s not gonna be the superstar that we think he’s gonna be,’ but that’s not going to happen overnight. I try to just tell him to just keep working, after every bucket it’s a great shot, just trying to keep his confidence up.”