CLEVELAND (AP) — Unflappable. Maybe that’s the best word to describe Cavaliers prized rookie forward Evan Mobley.
Or maybe unafraid. Or undeniable. Unreal could fit, too.
At roughly the same time the NBA wraps up this season after the Finals in June, Mobley will turn 21. So by the time he’s old enough to legally consume an adult beverage, he’ll have a full season — and maybe even a few playoff games — under his belt.
Perhaps a Rookie of the Year award as well.
For the Cavaliers to have any chance of upsetting the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night in the play-in tournament and advancing to the postseason, the 7-foot Mobley will need to do many of the things he’s done throughout Cleveland’s turnaround season — and more.
With All-Star Jarrett Allen’s out again due to a broken finger that has sidelined him for more than a month, Mobley will be counted on for scoring, rebounding and under-the-rim protector.
That’s no different than what he has provided all season for the resurgent Cavs. What’s new is that the stakes will be much higher and that Mobley will be playing on a stage where the lights will be brighter than he’s ever seen.
The rook’s ready.
“I’m definitely excited,” the soft-spoken Mobley said following Sunday’s win over Milwaukee in the regular-season finale. “I feel like the whole group is excited. New experience for a lot of people on our team. We’re a very young team, so I feel like everyone’s excited.
“Everyone’s gonna come out here with a lot of energy and really just play their hardest. So I have a good feeling about it.”
Those good vibes have fueled Mobley and the youthful Cavs for months.
Expected to make another draft lottery appearance after winning just 22 games last season, Cleveland’s rebuild seemed to skip a few steps as the Cavs finished 44-38 despite an inordinate number of injuries.
Mobley, the No. 3 overall pick last year from USC, kicked Cleveland’s climb into another gear.
He averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks over 69 games, stats that have him in a too-tight-to-call race with Toronto’s Scottie Barnes for top rookie honors.
Allen recently missed five straight games with a sprained ankle, and his value to the Cavs was underscored by the team going 1-4 without him.
Ask coach J.B. Bickerstaff about Mobley’s many talents, and the list is lengthy.
“Obviously what he does defensively, his ability to guard multiple positions, his ability to protect the rim, challenge shots at the rim, change shots at the rim,” Bickerstaff said. “Offensively, a playmaking big guy, so we can get the ball to him on different spots on the floor and allow him to make plays from all over the floor. His ability to score the basketball.
“He brings a lot to us.”
Mobley returned from his five-game absence last week to face the Nets and finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, a casual performance Bickerstaff described as “a roll out of bed.”
There were also elements to Mobley’s defensive game that didn’t show up in the box score.
Bickerstaff has seen those all season.
“His ability to intimidate,” Bickerstaff said. “People don’t even go in there sometimes because of the fear that he’s there and they’ll settle for bad shots or make difficult passes because they want to play away from him.”
Mobley’s length and athleticism allows the Cavs to switch on screens, overplay passing lanes and be more aggressive.
“It makes us a versatile defense and it’s helpful to all the guys because they have confidence when he’s out there,” Bickerstaff said. “They can get up and pressure their guy more because they know Evan’s there to support them.”
Mobley’s return seems to have restored some belief in the Cavs, who went just 9-14 after the All-Star break while patching together lineups due to injuries.
“And it’s only gonna get better from here on out,” Kevin Love said of having Mobley back. “Just the awareness and just that natural feel (he has) for the ball, whether it be rebounding, securing the defensive rebound, but then just being an elite defender and elite shot blocker with his size and length in his first year.
“It’s strength in numbers, but it’s nice, a huge luxury to say the least to have Ev down there.”
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