The days of the lumbering back-to-the-basket center having a massive impact on the league, much less early in their career, could be in the NBA’s past forever.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, that is not the kind of 7-footer they drafted in USC’s Evan Mobley, who was selected with the No. 3 pick last month.
The 20-year-old from Temecula, California, is more of a playmaker on offense with elite rim protection skills on the defensive end.
“I definitely feel comfortable with the ball in my hands as a playmaker,” said Mobley, who had eight points, 11 rebounds and three assists in an 87-84 loss to New Orleans at the NBA Summer League on Friday. “I’m tall so I feel like I can see the floor well and make all the passes. I think that’s a big part of my game right now.”
Mobley was able to showcase those skills in his only collegiate season, leading the Trojans to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. He finished the season averaging 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and three blocks per game while hitting 57.8 percent of his shots.
He also had 79 assists in his freshman campaign.
Isaac Okoro, who averaged 9.6 points per game as a rookie for Cleveland last season, has already taken note of his new teammate’s passing acumen.
“The most impressive thing for me is his playmaking ability,” Okoro said. “You don’t see a lot of people in the league right now — centers, of course — able to make the passes and handle the ball the way he handles it.”
Clevealnd already has plenty of distributors, though.
The Cavaliers return lead guard Darius Garland to pair with scorer Collin Sexton in the backcourt and traded for Ricky Rubio.
“My playmaking ability and their playmaking ability will all flow together very nicely and make it a great season,” he said.
Mobley for now is most comfortable facing up from the left elbow and is capable of making plays going to the basket from the 3-point line and in, as well as being an outstanding finisher in transition.
He still has a long way to go in the post and with his back to the basket, which an NBA strength and conditioning program should help.
“I’ll just keep living in the weight room and once I get my weight up, it’s going to be crazy,” the 215-pounder said.
A player of his size who is so much more comfortable away from the paint with the ball has of course led Mobley to see the “soft” label attached to his name in the past.
He’s not going to start worrying about such terms.
“I’ve heard it before,” he said. “I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder. I just try to be me and do that the best I can.”
That got him far enough to be the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year all in one season for the Trojans. The only other major conference player previously to pull off that trio of awards was Anthony Davis at Kentucky in 2012.
That kind of ability to make an instant impact may have Cavaliers fans dreaming big, but Mobley wants to take his time.
“I’ve just been trying to stay in the moment and not think about what’s to come or the pressure or anything like that,” said Mobley, who didn’t shift his focus full-time to basketball until eighth grade. “I haven’t been playing the game of basketball for a long time so it’s just about getting comfortable and continuing to get better in each aspect of my game. I feel like when the season starts, I’ll be ready.”
Fortunately for Mobley, that’s not until October.
Mobley is just 15 of 43 from the field in three games in Las Vegas as he continues to try to get more comfortable at the next level.
Cavaliers Summer League coach J.J. Outlaw said the focus now is just putting Mobley in the right situations to help his development.
“I just want to make him as comfortable with the ball as possible when he gets his touches, but he’s comfortable just about everywhere,” Outlaw said. “He’s extremely talented and has a lot of gifts on the basketball floor.”