There was a decent amount of hand-wringing earlier this season about Cleveland Cavaliers’ forward Evan Mobley’s offensive development. Most of which was overblown as Mobley was putting up similar numbers to last season while adjusting to playing aside another high-usage guard in Donovan Mitchell. But, there were some reasons for concern.
The second-year big wasn’t having a sophomore slump as much as he was just seeming stagnant. This was mostly to do with the lack of development with the outside shot which many were hoping would become a staple in his game after videos of him working out with Kevin Durant surfaced last summer.
The outside shot has looked worse this season as his three-point percentage (20.9%) and attempts (1.2) are both down from his rookie year. Despite the development with his shot, Mobley has taken a leap this past month.
In his last 15 games, Mobley is averaging 19.1 points on .564/.238/.708 shooting splits with 9.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. How Mobley is getting those points is what’s interesting.
Mobley has simply been dominant at the rim. During that stretch, he’s finished a ridiculous 76-91 (85.3%) attempts in the restricted area. Of those baskets, 80.3% have been assisted which is partially a reflection of Darius Garland’s tremendous playmaking of late. But, it is also a testament to just how good of a job Mobley is doing moving without the ball.
Mobley’s ability to find angles and exploit them remains impressive. Like a receiver working against a zone defense on 3rd and 5, Mobley’s often does his most damage by finding a window and sitting in it. When he has the time and space to get his momentum going towards the basket, he’s more often than not going to finish.
He has the speed and wherewithal to cut off-ball like a shooting guard or wing. In the below clip, he’s able to flash to the top of the key coming from the far-side corner. Again, if Mobley has momentum going towards the basket he’s going to be able to convert.
A wrinkle that the second-year big has continued to develop is his post hook and turnaround jumper. His touch on these shots make them feel un-guardable when they’re falling.
Below, is a good example of what the hook shot looks like in its most ideal form. Mobley uses the slight hesitation from the fake dribble-hand-off to create the separation he needed to drive towards the basket. Again, once his momentum is going to the rim, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
Mobley’s turnaround jumper looks effortless when he’s able to generate the separation needed to rise up cleanly. Here, he uses his dribble to create space to get Jonas Valančiūnas on his heels, pivots and rises up for the jumper. His length and the room he creates with his fadeaway jump make this practically un-guardable.
Despite how fluid and effortless the hook and turnaround jumper look, they haven’t been a high-percentage shot for the second-year big this season. On the season, Mobley is connecting on 40.3% of his shots from four feet to the free-throw line with a high volume, 35.7%, of his shots coming from this range. To put that in perspective, 35.2% of Durant’s shots come from this area and he’s connecting on 60.2% of those looks.
Those numbers haven’t been better during this recent stretch as Mobley is 37-97 (38.1%) on this shot type of his last 15 games.
A quick look at some of his misses show why these aren’t falling. The shots aren’t rimming out from a lack of touch, it’s a lack of ability to stay on-balance. He’s often knocked off his spot by stronger defenders which affects how he’s able to get his shots off.
This is a late shot clock situation, but Mobley is going up against a much shorter CJ McCollum on the block. McCollum is able to get into Mobley’s body forcing him to attempt the hook with his momentum going way from the basket resulting in a miss.
In another example of this, Mobley gets a clear-out iso against Bam Adebayo in the short corner. Mobley faces up and looks to get near the restricted area to presumably attempt his jump hook. Adebayo stays in his body forcing Mobley closer to the free-throw line where he’s left to take an off-balance fadeaway that doesn’t catch rim.
Mobley has the touch to finish these short-midrange shots, but doesn’t have the strength and body control yet to get these attempts off cleanly. This is not too surprising for someone with his frame.
Not to extend the comparison too far, but Durant shot 34% and 35% on his short midrange shots his first two seasons in the league before becoming a mid-40% shooter in his early 20 and an above-50% shooter in his late 20’s and early 30’s. The correlation doesn’t mean Mobley will become a midrange shooter like Durant. It does however show that these are difficult shots to consistently convert if you come into the league with a thinner, lanky frame that can be knocked off-balance.
The most encouraging part of Mobley’s recent development is he’s showing noticeable improvement in his ability to move off-ball and finish at the rim which has provided a boost in his point per game totals and efficiency.
He has shown flashes of being an assassin in the short midrange but doesn’t have the strength to rise up and get clean, on-balance looks against NBA level strength. These are the areas you will likely see the most improvement in as he continues to put on weight and strength.
The sky is the limit for someone as physically impressive and as skilled as Mobley. He’s just scratching the surface of who he can be as a scorer. That, combined with his already elite defense, is why it’s only a matter of time until Mobley is the best player on this team and possibly one of the best in the league.