Adding ‘transformative’ Evan Mobley to Cleveland Cavaliers’ growing young core provides hope for turnaround – cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Even though he stands 7-feet tall, Evan Mobley can do graceful backflips like Simone Biles. If Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman had that athleticism, fluidity and flexibility, he would’ve pulled the same celebratory maneuver, joyfully flipping out of team headquarters late Thursday night.

And who would’ve blamed him? The Cavs finally have the linchpin of their rebuild.

“We were able to draft a transformative talent, whose versatility, athleticism and physical gifts are qualities we covet in a player. Evan Mobley checks each of those boxes,” Altman said. “We are committed to establishing a sustainable and winning culture in Cleveland and we couldn’t be more excited about Evan being part of our future.”

After three years of frustrating ping-pong ball bounces that kept them on the periphery of the top tier, Cleveland’s lottery luck returned, vaulting them into the No. 3 pick of a stacked draft.

The ecstasy was obvious on June 22.

It built even more throughout the pre-draft process, as the team’s scouting staff dug deeper — statistical breakdowns, film sessions, interviews, background checks.

Picking third, the Cavs were in the catbird seat. Leaguewide trade interest started about five weeks ago and the phone never stopped ringing. It created exciting possibilities. Grandiose visions of reconstructing the roster. Only for Cleveland’s decision-makers that feeling was never tied to a massive potential trade package. Rather, it was about an opportunity to add one of the three prized prospects — Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Mobley — to this still-developing and exciting young core.

On Thursday night, the euphoria reached a climax when Altman ignored last-second offers and made the call to the league office.

Evan. Mobley.

While the Cavs didn’t get to talk with him prior to Thursday night — a choice Mobley’s reps made to only meet with Detroit — they knew he was their guy, getting an inkling earlier in the day that the Pistons would take Cunningham and Green was Houston bound. The Cavs were awestruck by what they saw on film, sometimes left speechless or chuckling in amazement. They were comfortable with the information-gathering and intel. They got to know his family, old teammates and coaches, learning all about his character. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff gave his blessing, already dreaming up the endless possibilities of lineups and usage.

“This year is unique. It’s our job to navigate that and make the right decision for the franchise,” Altman said. “We still felt like we had enough information that we felt comfortable to do it even though he didn’t come to Cleveland to work out.”

As soon as the third pick was made, and the Cavs were officially off the clock, Altman stood up and shared a moment with director of scouting Brandon Weems, assistant general manager Mike Gansey, who spearheads the front office’s draft process, and Bickerstaff. There was finally a reward for those 50 losses — and dejecting late-season collapse. Even though tempted by some offers, the Cavs weren’t going to throw away this chance.

“We had to go through the process. The offers kept getting more and more compelling, but within those offers there was no Evan Mobley,” Altman said. “When you have the ability to draft that level of talent, that versatile 7-foot two-way player that has immense upside, that’s what you take.”

This is their Luka. Their Trae. Their Zion. Their Ja. Their LaMelo. All trajectory-altering players the Cavs weren’t in position to draft the previous three years.

It’s not a knock against Collin Sexton, Darius Garland or Isaac Okoro, considered a trio of core pieces — unless some opposing team meets Cleveland’s hefty price tag in a Sexton trade.

Sexton, who just recently turned 22 years old, ranked 18th in scoring this past season and was part of the Eastern Conference All-Star conversation. Garland had a breakout sophomore campaign, receiving three votes for Most Improved Player and getting an invite to USA Basketball’s Select Team. Okoro was named Second Team All-Rookie and Larry Nance Jr., who was been watching Okoro work his tail off this summer, believes the feisty, defensive-minded youngster has potential to be one of the best players from the 2020 draft class.

Who am I to argue with Nance?

That bold prediction aside, it’s tough to envision any of the three becoming Cleveland’s franchise guy. Same goes for Jarrett Allen, the restricted free agent center who arrived in a January trade from Brooklyn and was immediately labeled the center of the future.

Mobley, on the other hand …

He’s a 7-footer with guard skills. A modern-day, do-it-all-at-both-ends-of-the-floor big with incredible defensive versatility, movement skills and arms that extend to the rafters. He can play 4 or 5. Because of his skill set, he won’t get played off the court, creating mismatches for opponents, not the other way around.

Guys his size shouldn’t be able to glide around the court the way he does. They shouldn’t be able to snap such pristine dimes, in the conversation statistically as the best passing big to enter the NBA in the last 20 years, edged out in assist rate by just Al Horford and Andrew Bogut. Shouldn’t be able to have such a delicate touch, ranking in the 92nd percentile on floaters — a deadly shot more common in some of the league’s best guards. Shouldn’t be able to cover so much ground, quickly transitioning from interior anchor to perimeter stopper. Shouldn’t be able to play like a human computer with the speed at which he processes information and then reacts. Or be such a stifling, active, rim-protecting defender with an extraordinarily low foul rate, helping USC to the best 2-point defense in the country and sixth best overall.

On offense, the Cavs can use him as an hub — perimeter, mid post, high post, short roll, dunker spot. Altman even mentioned Mobley being a pick-and-roll ballhandler thanks to his vision and passing.

According to Synergy, he took 18 percent of his shots out of rolls, 15 percent came from post-ups, another 15 percent out of spot-ups, 12 percent on cuts and dump-offs, 11 percent were offensive rebounds, 9 percent in transition and 7 percent were isolations. To Altman’s point, Mobley scored seven of the 15 times he operated as the pick-and-roll ballhandler. He also shot 46.4% on mid-range jumpers — a good sign when it comes to projecting the evolution of his 3-pointer.

“He’s one of the rare guys that when he touches the ball something good happens every time and he’s not selfish,” Altman said. “He looks to make the right play every time. That’s why it’s really hard to pigeonhole him into a position.”

At the other end, Mobley can help protect the undersized Garland-Sexton backcourt, giving the Cavs another plus-defender and perhaps keeping them from finishing near the bottom of the defensive rankings for a fourth straight season. He can play alongside fellow power forwards Nance and Kevin Love. The Cavs also believe the Allen-Mobley (Frobley? Tower City?) pairing will be effective.

The high-end comparisons to Anthony Davis, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Giannis Antetokounmpo are too lofty. But they’re at least understandable.

Guys like Mobley don’t come around very often. Only Davis accomplished what Mobley did as a freshman, taking home conference Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors in the same season. Since Box Plus-Minus was introduced to the college game, only three players finished with a better mark than Mobley: Davis, Zion Williamson and Karl-Anthony Towns. Mobley also led the NCAA in Win Shares this past season, thrusting USC into the Elite Eight for the second time in two decades.

“I think his representation and the family and Evan himself felt he should be the No. 1 pick. And I don’t disagree with them on that,” Altman said. “It was a super close, it really was. This is a large injection of talent with what we have already established. We’ve had some unbelievable success in this organization. And it’s really, really hard. You need some great talent to get there. He has high hopes and aspirations, and we’re right there along with him.”

Sure, there are some concerns — he needs to add muscle to his 215-pound frame, his long-range shooting stroke is inconsistent and untested (a clear swing skill when it comes to his ceiling), he doesn’t have a glut of post moves, his rebounding metrics are lower than desired, and his on-court demeanor is often muted, leading some to wonder whether he has the passion to dominate and the voice to lead — but that’s just customary fault-finding this time of year.

Mobley was the missing piece of Cleveland’s future. It may take time to grow and develop (Altman actually thinks Mobley could sprout more). But, suddenly, there’s hope again. A reason to believe that this plan — often shredded by doubters and laughed at by those who kept judging a work in progress as if it were a finished product — will one day crystallize.

That the Cavs will rise with him.

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