CLEVELAND (AP) — Irreversible. Maybe that’s the best word to describe the Cavaliers’ prized rookie forward Evan Mobley.
Or maybe stupid. or indisputable. Unreal can also fit.
Around the same time that the NBA ends this season after the Finals in June, Mobley will turn 21. So by the time he’s old enough to legally consume an adult drink, he’ll have an entire season—and maybe even a few playoff games—under his belt.
Maybe even the Rookie of the Year award.
To upset the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night in the play-in tournament for the Cavaliers and have any chance of progressing to the postseason, 7-foot Mobley will have to do many of the things he did in Cleveland’s turnaround season — and more. Some.
With All-Star Jarrett Allen dismissed again due to a broken finger that has sidelined him for more than a month, Mobley will be counted on for scoring, rebounding and an under-the-rim defender.
It’s no different than what he’s provided throughout the season for the resurrected Cavs. What’s new is that the stakes will be very high and Mobley will play on a stage where the lights will be brighter than ever.
The rogue is ready.
“I’m definitely excited,” said soft-spoken Mobley after Sunday’s win over Milwaukee in the regular season finale. “I think the whole group is excited. New experience for a lot of people on our team. We’re a very young team, so I think everyone’s excited.
“Everyone is going to come out here with a lot of energy and really only play their toughest. So I feel good about that.”
Those good vibes have fueled Mobley and the young Cavs for months.
Hoping to make another Draft Lottery appearance after winning just 22 games last season, Cleveland missed some steps in rebuilding as the Cavs finished 44–38 despite a plethora of injuries.
3 overall pick from USC last year, Mobley, kicked Cleveland’s climb into another gear.
He averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks in 69 games, stats that put him in a very tight-to-call race for top rookie honor with Toronto’s Scotty Barnes.
Allen recently missed five straight games due to an ankle sprain, and his value to the Cavs was underscored by a team going 1-4 without him.
Ask coach JB Bickerstaff about Mobley’s many talents, and the list is long.
“Obviously what he does defensively is his ability to defend multiple positions, his ability to defend the rim, challenge the shot on the rim, change the shot on the rim,” Bickerstaff said. “Aggressively, a big player, so we can get him to bring the ball to different places on the floor and allow him to make plays from across the floor. His ability to score basketball.
“He brings a lot to us.”
Mobley returned from his five-game absence to face the Nets last week and finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, an accidental performance Bickerstaff described as a “roll out of bed”.
There were also elements of Mobley’s defensive play that did not reflect in the box score.
Bickerstaff has seen all those seasons.
“Their ability to intimidate,” Bickerstaff said. “People sometimes don’t go there for fear that he’s there and they’ll settle for bad shots or make difficult passes because they want to play away from him.”
Mobley’s length and athleticism allow the Cavs to switch screens, overplay passing lanes, and be more aggressive.
“It makes us a versatile defense and it’s helpful to all guys because when he’s there he has confidence,” Bickerstaff said. “They can get up and put more pressure on their guy because they know Evan is there to support them.”
Mobley’s return has restored some faith in the Cavs, who went 9-14 just after the All-Star break while patching together a lineup due to injuries.
“And it’s only going to get better from here,” Kevin Love said of Mobli being back. “Just having that awareness and just that natural feel for the ball (that is), whether it’s rebounding, gaining defensive reflexes, but then being an elite defender and elite shot blocker with his size and length in his first year.
“It’s strength in numbers, but it’s nice, to say the least, a huge luxury that Eve is down there.”
More AP NBA coverage: More