Cavs see Evan Mobley with chance to be 'most impactful' player on floor: 'He's a unicorn'

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) plays against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) plays against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Evan Mobley, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

On any given night, the Cavaliers have a couple of All-Star guards capable of pouring in 40 points and taking over games.

But while the point totals might be lower elsewhere, there's a third option who Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff sees as having the potential to be the "most impactful player on the floor" on a daily basis.

That distinction belongs to second-year forward Evan Mobley, whose versatility instantly opened up the Cavs offense a year ago after being selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. But it's on the defensive end, to an even greater degree, where Mobley has made his mark alongside Jarrett Allen.

This season, Mobley is averaging an identical 15 points per game, just as he did as a rookie, though in a more efficient manner (54 percent shooting this season, 51 percent in 2021-22) along with 9.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He has often acted as the third option in the Cavs offense behind guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, a key player who gives Cleveland's attack an extra dimension with his multi-faceted skillset.

It's been something of an eye-opening experience for his teammates to see him so quickly acclimate to the league as a consistent force.

"And it’s crazy, because he’s 21. Like, he hasn’t gotten all his tools together," Garland said. "Sometimes it still looks like he’s trying to get used to his 7-foot size out there. He’s a unicorn. There’s not a lot of people like him on this planet. It’s cool to just have him as a teammate, for sure."

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Bickerstaff echoed that sentiment, saying the Cavs believe Mobley "hasn't even scratched the surface" with the ceiling-high potential he holds.

"When you have that type of footwork and balance, that length and size to still be under control all the time and never get sped up, it's impressive," Bickerstaff said. "If you saw some of the stuff he did in practice and in his workouts, that [tool] bag is full."

Evan Mobley's defensive ability showing up in metrics

Offensively, Mobley has been a headache for opposing teams. Defensively, he's likely been in their nightmares.

Mobley is tied for the league lead with Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac with 1.3 Defensive Win Shares, a metric that attributes credit for a player's defensive ability and his impact to the team. He also ranks ninth in the NBA with a 105.9 Defensive Rating.

Mobley's ability to have such a dynamic impact on both ends of the court on a nightly basis gives him as much potential to have his presence felt on the floor as anyone else. It's a conversation the Cavs have had with their sophomore standout, an illustration that sometimes the box score, especially defensively, won't properly illustrate the impact a player had that night. Similar to a cornerback in the NFL who might not end up with as many interceptions as others because teams simply won't test his side of the field, Mobley's mere presence is enough to alter opposing offense's plans.

Evan Mobley can be 'that guy'

"Evan has the opportunity to be the most impactful player on the floor every night, no matter what his numbers are or what they say," Bickerstaff said. "There's the intangibles. And there's just the overall impact of his presence of making the right plays at the right time. His two-way ability to protect the paint — most of the time when guys see him in there, they don't even go in there. There's not a stat for that. When he catches the ball and he makes the hockey assist, they don't track that in our box scores. His presence in the paint when he's rolling, people have to go to him, it creates an open opportunity for somebody else. They don't track that. They don't put that in the stat sheet.

"So, Evan’s main thing — and I've been impressed by it — is the only thing he cares about is helping us win and doing what it takes to win. He could have came here as a rookie when our team was kind of a question mark, and he could have just hunted shots and tried to get his stats. But he never did. The only thing he did was go out every single night and try to help us win. And that's what he continues to do."

In other words, Mobley can be "that guy."

"Think about this as a basketball fan and think about the challenges that have presented the greatest players in our game over time," Bickerstaff said. "Everybody knows who 'that guy' is, and that night you are getting [your opponent's] best shot. … We believe in Evan’s ability to be able to do that. That is how highly we think of him. For him, the more and more he proves to himself what he can do, the next night is even easier for him to do it again. … That’s how you put yourself in that conversation of the elite. But that takes time for everybody, and there’s bumps along the road for everybody."

Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen protecting the paint for Cavs

And combined with Allen, who ranks seventh in the NBA with a 105.6 Defensive Rating, the Cavs have a double-edged sword defending the paint.

"I mean, I made this point before, Jarrett is a defensive player of the year-caliber player," Bickerstaff said. "When our two big guys are on the floor together, and they're working as a pair in there, they're hard to score on in that paint. Evan is an All-Defensive Team player himself. We're extremely fortunate to have two guys that can defend the way that they can defend and, again, when they're working together, you're hard pressed to find easy looks out there."

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Evan Mobley has chance to be more impactful for Cleveland Cavaliers