Cleveland Cavaliers starting power forward: Evan Mobley
The No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Evan Mobley has quickly surpassed his contemporaries in the hierarchy of NBA stardom. He still has room to grow — the playoffs were definitive proof of that — but Mobley made the NBA All-Defense team in his second NBA season. He did so while averaging 16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds on 59.1 TS%.
Mobley is a singularly versatile presence on the defensive end. He’s the rare long, gangly 7-footer who can competently guard the perimeter. He can switch one through five. He check wings if the matchup demands it. The Cavs spent plenty of time with essentially three bigs on the floor last season, allowing Mobley to roam the perimeter or anchor the top of a zone with his endless 7-foot-4 wingspan.
The Cavs are clearly looking to transition to Mobley as the full-time center and defensive anchor eventually, especially if the offensive fit between him and Jarrett Allen doesn’t improve. That was a significant hangup once the playoffs arrived. Mobley still can’t comfortably shoot from 3 and it’s hard for even the best offensive teams to survive two non-shooters in the postseason.
Mobley also remains a victim of NBA physicality from time to time. The Knicks put him in the hurt locker on the defensive and offensive glass in the first round. For all his flexibility and ground coverage, Mobley still gets plowed through and pushed off his spot at the rim more often than his coaches would like. He’s a bonafide star on the rise, but there are absolutely areas of concern he must address.
Primary backup power forward: Georges Niang
The Cavs signed Georges Niang away from Philadelphia to address the team’s 3-point woes. There are very strict limitations to Niang as a player, but he’s flat-out one of the best spot-up shooters in the game. Station him on the wing or in the corner and he will feast on kick-outs from Garland and Mitchell.
What Niang does not address is Cleveland’s shortage of competent wing defenders. Niang has made a real effort to improve in that respect, but he remains an easy target for smart offenses due to his inability to move laterally in space. Teams will seek to involve Niang in pick-and-rolls as much as possible. The Cavs will have to avoid it with the same determination.
In the end, Niang is a great regular season player who immensely improves whichever lineup he is part of offensively. In the playoffs, however, it gets tricky to maximize the offensive benefits while staving off the detriment of his defensive presence. Niang was a key cog in Philadelphia’s machine for two years and he should see a similar workload in Cleveland, but there are concerns when projecting toward the Cavs’ ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Other players who could receive minutes at power forward: Dean Wade
Niang is essentially stealing Dean Wade’s spot, but the Cavs leaned on Wade a fair amount last season: 20.3 minutes per game in 44 appearances (13 starts). He’s 6-foot-9 and a career 36.2 percent 3-point shooter. He’s another stretch-four option when Cleveland shelves one of their twin towers.