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What we learned about the Cavaliers at Summer League

Some takeaways from Las Vegas.

NBA: Summer League-NBA TV New Orleans Pelicans at Cleveland Cavaliers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Putting too much stock in Summer League games is oftentimes a mistake. Summer League is an eclectic mix of players who are all there for different reasons. Those reasons generally don’t lend themselves to the cleanest, team first basketball on the offensive end. Players are also often thrown together without much time to practice and without much of a team philosophy to fall back on. This oftentimes creates a physical style of play that rewards guys who can create their own jumper off the dribble more than it would in a normal NBA game.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s what we learned from Summer League.

Mobley isn’t a back the basket guy yet.

Evan Mobley’s shooting numbers are somewhat disappointing as he combined to go 15 for 43 (34.9%) from the field for 34 points three games.

One of the reasons his efficiency was so low was the volume of post-up shots he attempted. Player tracking stats for Summer League are non-existent, but by my count he combined to go 2-8 on post-ups, which is partially to blame for his low efficiency.

Mobley’s lack of strength really hurts him when he’s playing with his back to the basket even when he isn’t in the post. His lack of strength allows him to get pushed off his spots rather easily. His good coordination and touch are often negated by the lack of balance he has while attempting shots from the low post or turnaround jumpers. This also something he struggled with at USC.

Maybe this can become a facet of Mobley’s game if/when he puts on more weight and strength. As of now it’s arguably the weakest part of his overall offensive package. Playing against NBA level competition will only make this weakness more glaring.

One of the most frustrating parts about the Cavs’ Summer League team was the lack of ball handlers. The guards struggled to get Mobley involved on other areas of the floor which forced him to try to get touches in the post. I don’t blame him or the team for going this route, but the post ups are partially to blame for the lackluster efficiency. Fortunately, I don’t believe this will be a big issue when he’s playing with more capable ball handlers.

Isaac Okoro is too advanced for Summer League.

NBA caliber players stick out in this league. Okoro stood out on both ends of the floor as he was able to physically dominate players on the offensive and defensive end. Okoro combined to go for 32 points on 13-22 shooting (59.1%) from the floor in the two games he played. This included going 2-7 from beyond the arc. Most of his damage came from attacking the basket and bullying defenders.

Okoro’s offensive development will go a long way in determining how good the Cavs’ starting unit is offensively. His shot is still a work in progress and I don’t think it’s fair to expect a huge jump in efficiency from beyond the arc. However, if he can improve at finishing in traffic and cutting off-ball, the lack of shooting will become more tolerable from a spacing perspective.

The organization has continually spoken about how they want to get the ball in his hands more as a playmaker. We saw some growth in that area as he finished with 5 assists through two games in this increased role. While he often isn’t a playmaker for others on ball, he has shown that he is more willing and confident attacking the basket off the dribble when he’s given more of an opportunity to ball handle.

The Cavs desperately needed players who could attack defenses off the dribble last season. I’m interested to see if Okoro can improve on this and carry it over into the start of the upcoming season.

The back of the roster hasn’t separated themselves.

Summer League can go a long way in determining how teams fill out the back end of their roster. None of the players vying for the last spots outside of Lamar Stevens (who was relatively safe coming into Summer League) really separated themselves. Mfiondu Kabengele and Brodric Thomas are in danger of losing their spots from last year while Matt Ryan and Trevon Bluiett have a chance to grab one or both spots.

Kabengele was solid in Summer League, but he might’ve needed to be better than solid to secure a spot. His non-guaranteed contract being waived would probably have more to do with the amount of bigs on the roster instead of his play.

Thomas had a rough showing in Summer League despite giving the Cavs some decent minutes last season. He opened up against Houston by going 1 for 10 from the field and never really recovered. His position on the team seemed more certain before this last week.

Ryan proved he could be a good shooter as he went 13-27 (48.1%) from deep. He also has nice size at 6’7” which is something the Cavs desperately need on the wing.

Bluiett also showed off some impressive outside shooting as he went 13 for 32 (40.6%) from distance. Bluiett has a much more well-rounded game then Ryan, but his frame makes him more of a tall shooting guard than it does a wing.

It’ll be interesting to see how the end of the roster plays out. I like what we saw out of Bluiett and Ryan during Summer League and would consider giving one or both a two-way deal. However, neither were good enough where I wouldn’t also explore options outside the organization.

Mobley’s passing ability is a reason to get excited.

The big man’s passing ability and vision are impressive for someone his age. Mobley has the innate ability to see passes and lanes that are rare for someone at his position to see.

The rookie picked up 6 assists and 2 turnovers in the win over Orlando. Mobley moved into a more on-ball role in the second half which allowed him to play to his strengths as a passer. He was able to probe the defense and set up teammates in a more natural way then before when he was playing mostly out of the low and high post.

It’s difficult to project how impactful Mobley will be on the offensive end his rookie season. His effectiveness will likely depend on how he plays off the guards, his shooting ability, and whether he can comfortably put the ball on the floor without turning it over. Those abilities could take time to develop. I don’t share those same concerns with his passing ability even though his effectiveness as a passer could be limited if he doesn’t have a reliable shot and/or handle out of the gate.

It’s not uncommon to find good passing big men in the league. However, there aren’t many that can make good passes and reads out of the post, from the wing, and off the dribble. Being able to do all three is what sets him apart. His playmaking could be his most advanced offensive ability his rookie season.

The Cavs will need to be patient with Mobley.

Mobley has all the skills and physical tools to eventually become the best power forward in the league. Unlike the occasional guard or wing who can have a positive impact out of the gates, even the best power forwards need time to develop. Mobley is no exception.

Some of the best fours in the last 25 years didn’t make a big impact on wins right out of the gate. Kevin Garnett averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in his first year. Other top power forwards like Chris Bosh (11.5/7.4/1.0) and Anthony Davis (13.5/8.2/1.0) had similar impacts as rookies. I’m not comparing Mobley to any of these three guys, but even if you think he could potentially reach his ceiling it’s important to acknowledge that even the best players at his position don’t turn around a franchise on day one.

The Cavs will likely get a lot of what we saw in Summer League from Mobley his rookie season. He’ll make positive contributions as a playmaker and on the defensive end, but the consistency won’t be there night to night. His presence isn’t going to magically raise the ceiling or floor of this team. Any improvements will likely be linked to the steps forward by the other young players and/or better health from the veterans.

Mobley showed plenty of flashes that should make Cavs’ fans excited about the future. He has the skills to be a dominate power forward. But even if he puts it all together at some point, it likely won’t be for a couple seasons. Patience is key.