25-under-25: Evan Mobley is a two-way, NBA unicorn

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Evan Mobley is a budding star with utterly unique two-way potential, representing the bright future of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Sometimes you know a player is special and has what it takes to be an NBA superstar the moment you see them take the court as a rookie. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley is one of the most recent examples of this phenomenon and has already established himself as one of the best young players in the NBA.

The 21-year-old San Diego native was taken third overall in the 2021 NBA Draft and Cavaliers fans instantly rejoiced as this was not going to be another Anthony Bennett situation; instead, it was going to be another LeBron James or Kyrie Irving situation.

Comparing Mobley — who is entering his second season coming off an All-Rookie First Team selection— to one of the greatest of all time and an All-NBA guard might seem sacrilegious to the normal basketball fan. But that is just how special Mobley is. He has legitimate All-NBA First Team potential and is unlike any player that has been taken in recent drafts. He has all the makings of being a true NBA unicorn.

Very few players can have a two-way impact on the game the way Evan Mobley does

Playing elite defense at the NBA level is no easy feat but Mobley came in and did so before he could legally gamble in Las Vegas. The 7-footer resembles Anthony Davis on the defensive end with the ability to block shots at the rim at an elite level while also being switchable onto guards and wings. Drive on him, pull him out of the paint, it doesn’t matter. Mobley has the defensive skill set to thrive in every area.

What makes Mobley different from other solid defensive bigs of the past, such as Noel and Nene, is his versatility on the defensive end. Very few players in the league have the ability to guard all five positions and Mobley is on a fast track to do so; joining the likes of Giannis Anteotkounmpo, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons and Draymond Green.

Mobley is also far more dangerous on the offensive end than these recent examples of solid defensive bigs. While there were rookie hurdles at times, Mobley’s overall impact on the offensive end was more than noticeable for this Cavaliers team.

In 33.8 minutes per game, Mobley averaged 15 points on 50.8 percent shooting with a 25 3-point percentage. He also hauled in 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. Mobley became the fourth rookie this century to average 15 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, joining the likes of Emeka Okafor, Pau Gasol and Karl-Anthony Towns.

These are the kind of players that front offices search far and wide for to win a championship. There are a lot of elite guards and wings in this league, but there are very few two-way big men that could have an impact on both ends of the floor and a high one at that. We’ve already seen the best version of what Mobley’s player type is and that is Anthony Davis.

Experience is only going to make the former USC Trojan better. His defense is going to get better as he gets more reps to build his basketball IQ. Not to mention that he has not even filled out his body yet. Add another two or three years of NBA strength and conditioning and Mobley is going to become a brick wall near the basket.

The game is also going to get better for him offensively as well. Playing alongside two elite guards in Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell is going to do wonders for Mobley. This is going to open up his offense near the basket and as time goes on, he should also improve as a 3-point shooter as well. He does not need to be a sharpshooting stretch 4, but if teams have to suddenly respect a 3-point shot as well it is going to be a serious problem.

There is a reason why the Cleveland Cavaliers swooped in and made the Mitchell trade. Some would argue that Mitchell is not a true No. 1 and that you cannot win a championship with him as your best guy. That might be true, but in a year or two’s time, Mitchell won’t be the best player on the Cavaliers.

It will be Mobley. The 2022-23 season might be a bit too soon to start putting him on All-NBA watch, but this is someone who could legitimately win both an NBA Championship and an MVP award with his unique two-way skillset and the situation he finds himself in on the Cavaliers.

And if so, the luck with the third overall pick will continue. Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden, Pau Gasol, Chauncey Billups, Dominique Wilkins, Kevin McHale, and most recently, Luka Doncic. Evan Mobley is going to find himself in that list of players sooner rather than later.

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