No team has captivated my mental output like the Cleveland Cavaliers this off-season. After what was arguably the brightest season for the Cavs sans LeBron since he was drafted in 2003, the Cavaliers doubled down and traded for star guard Donovan Mitchell. If the training wheels and lack of expectation of the past few seasons were loosened during the 2022 regular season, they were launched into the abyss the second ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that trade.
While Cleveland isn’t forecasted to make a deep run this season or contend for a title, they pushed in the chips to head down that path in the coming years.
When thinking about tracks of competition and windows of contention, player development and how it coincides with immediate on-court impact is prudent to roster construction. Much talk has been brought up with Isaac Okoro, his offensive shortcomings, and how vital it is that he fill out rapidly on the wing; it’s hard to disagree (but have hope, I think the Okoro believers will be remembered kindly!)
It can’t be undersold how vital Okoro’s development is to rounding out lineups and solidifying this team. Yet, the development I find myself most intrigued by is that of Evan Mobley’s.
Mobley was by my estimates, a top-50 player last season as a rookie. I’m still salty he wasn’t voted to All-Defense.
Maybe by virtue of how quiet he is off the court and his consistent immediate impact on the court, I feel the potential leap from him in year two hasn’t been heralded.
Any leaps and bounds from Mobley wouldn’t necessarily paper over some of the wing concerns of the Cavs’, but my point is rather that Mobley becoming a Top 30 player (roughly an All-Star) could have greater bearings for the Cavaliers and prove even more impactful than any other internal developments on the roster.
Where is the room for improvement? What’s the impact if development comes to fruition? Most importantly, how feasible is it?
Off-rip, we need to deduce what makes Mobley special, as in, I think there are less than 10 players in the league I’d even consider Mobley in a trade for.
His blend of size, length, athleticism, ball skills, and fluidity are not just rare at present, but throughout basketball history. He’s remarkably quick and covers the court laterally and baseline to baseline. While he still has room to grow and add muscle (he did over the summer already), he has better functional strength than most would guess by his frame.
There are few players who can routinely hit a defender with a rip through out of a jab series and then punch it at the rim in 2.5 strides; this is sorcery.
He’s shown touch on floaters and craft based looks around the rim. His jumper was solid inside the arc last season, both on stationary looks and some self-created side-steps, pull-ups, and a variety of face-up jumpers.
Where the shot gets to from outside is the bigger question; he was mostly gun-shy from deep as a rookie, but the indicators of touch, his release point, and spectacular footwork in all facets of the game lend credence to impending growth as a three-point shooter.
Extending his game out with efficacy and aggression will eventually cause defenses to do the same. Volume and consistency plays a big part in defensive shift and shot perception (read this), and the continued growth of Mobley’s jumper and level to which it hits this season will play a large part in allowing him more space to operate.
Here’s the fun part; those shifts can take years from a defense and require extensive levels of growth and consistency to really for change. What can the Cavs’ and Mobley do in the mean time to incubate his jumper development and bolster it schematically?
One of the joy’s of last season were the little sprinklings of Mobley the ball-handler that we got to see.
Per Cleaning the Glass, the Cavs were 18th in transition frequency last season, slightly below league average.
There’s room for Cleveland to improve as a transition team, pushing more on the break and particularly off of Mobley’s rebounds. There were moments last year, as shown above, with Mobley receiving a quick guard screen to try and draw up a quick attack in early offense. I’d really like to see more of that this season and feel that’s low-hanging fruit to draw up more ball-handling reps for Mobley while still generating quality offensive looks.
Donovan Mitchell isn’t someone you’d think of as a great screener, but he’s a phenomenal movement shooter. Using him as a quick back screener to pop out to the slot is the type of action that can be so damning it causes confusion in guarding the action. The same can be said for Garland! There’s room to get funky, and I’d love to see the Cavs and J.B. Bickerstaff tap into that on a team that has some quirks to work out with their spacing, while also being able to bend the floor in their favor.
Speaking of screening, that’s the phase of Mobley’s game I’m selfishly most anticipating. It’s not mincing words to say that Mobley is a poor screener right now. He’s quick to shed, isn’t always great at making contact and holding it, and generally is a bit slip happy; there’s room for some aggression in his screens.
It seems minute on the surface, but setting screens with more force can be the margin between an open look for a teammate from deep and a shot that never even gets attempted. In turn, opening up teammates creates more open rolls for Mobley himself. Mi casa su casa, but spacing instead of housing. Open rolls means more open looks!
He already has the height, passing vision, and an array of deliveries that make him enticing as a big man playmaker from the high post as a hub, and eventually off the dribble.
The continually developing intricacies of his game open up further pathways to Mobley being a special kind of player we don’t see come into the league often; He can defend the rim at a near DPOY level, he can guard wings and guards on the perimeter, and do it all without getting into foul trouble.
His budding self-creation makes him almost a lanky wing or 7-foot guard rather than a big. Positionless is a word that can be thrown around a bit too easily without fitting the billing, but Mobley might be well on his way to becoming the poster child.
At large, analysis tends to be focused on the growth that is ‘unexpected’ re: a wing player with flashes of creation. There’s a real case to be made that the furthering development of a player who has already shown that star track like Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham is as impressive and outlier as the growth of a player not yet in that star track or caliber. Whether or not that growth is expected is another discussion.
As the Cavs head into the 2022-23 season, Mobley’s potential growth looms large, but somehow under the radar.