Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley becoming best show in Cleveland but is now out 2-4 weeks
Evan Mobley has quickly become the best show in Cleveland sports, but the show will be on hiatus for the next few weeks because of an injured elbow.
The Cavaliers announced on Tuesday that an MRI revealed a right elbow sprain, the result of Mobley becoming tangled with Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter in Monday night's game. It'll keep Mobley sidelined for 2-to-4 weeks.
It's a huge blow for the Cavs, even though it's involving a rookie who has only played 15 games in the NBA. That's how quickly Mobley has become an integral part of the Cavs' success, both long term and short term.
Mobley's impact has been felt by the team so quickly that coach J.B. Bickerstaff isn't sure he's even been around someone quite like the rookie from USC.
"I don't know if I've seen it, to be honest with you, or been around it. That's how rare it is," Bickerstaff said recently. "Normally, young guys are so consumed with figuring the game out for themselves that they struggle to impact winning. Again, I'm not getting ahead of myself here, but he's shown these first games that’s the impact that he can have. Because one, his skill set, but two, his intent. He does not care about anything else.
"There's no agenda, there's no motive. His sole focus is, how do I help the Cleveland Cavaliers win basketball games? And he just goes out and does that."
Mobley is averaging 14.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals per game on 49.4 percent shooting from the floor and 30.8 percent from 3-point range.
That production had started to pick up a bit, too. Entering Monday's game, in which he left early and finished with just one point, Mobley had scored at least 16 points in five consecutive games, including a season-high 26 against the New York Knicks in his first pro trip to Madison Square Garden.
That five-game span included a 19.6 points per game average, two nights in which he totaled at least three blocks and two steals, at least seven rebounds in all five and one with five assists.
Mobley has been an immediate, dynamic presence in the Cavs' offense, combining his 7-foot frame with a scoring ability that isn't anchored to the paint.
Like with any NBA rookie, there is a learning curve to adjusting to the NBA game and the offense in which you're operating. That's true for Mobley as well. It's just that he's reading Chapter 38 when most other rookies are studying for Chapter 18.
"Each game I'm learning where I can score, finding my spots in the offense that we run," Mobley said. "So I feel like each game I’m getting better and better at that. I'm just trying to do what I do on the court. I know I got my guys around me to help me do that. So it's making it easier."
It certainly has looked easy, all things considered. And it's why losing him for a few weeks is such a significant loss for the Cavs, even though long-term development is the primary focus.
"I can’t even say what’s impressive. He’s done everything and more that we could ask from him," Jarrett Allen said. "Everyone saying, ‘Oh it’s going to be a slow start for him, he’s going to have to work his way into this league.’ He blew all that out of the water and he’s been playing excellent.”
The Cavs used the No. 3 pick of the NBA Draft on Mobley, a massively important investment given the team's available resources in trying to build a contending team for the long run. And given his combination of scoring ability in a variety of ways on the floor, Mobley has almost instantly become a focal point of the offense.
The Cavs have several crucial players that they hope will eventually form the puzzle for a winner (the 9-7 start has already exceeded expectations). Mobley might be at the top of that list, effectively making him a leader even though he can't legally drink alcohol until next summer.
"Yeah, I think there's different types of leaders," Bickerstaff said. "Everybody isn't the guy who's up yelling, screaming, in everybody's ear talking. There's a lot of guys who if you watch through history have led by example. And then when their voice is heard, it's even more powerful, because they don't talk all the time. So I think he definitely has those capabilities.
"And the other thing about leadership is people have to be willing to follow you and people are willing to follow him because they respect how he plays the game, his work ethic, how good of a teammate he is, and all those things."
It doesn't mean Mobley, or anyone else, has to talk all the time. But it does mean speaking up in the right moments.
"He knows what he has to do in order to help the team ... he's not an off the court, extremely vocal person, but he knows that he has to help his teammates, and in order to help his teammates, he's got to communicate things being the anchor of our defense," Bickerstaff said. "Him and Jarrett being that back line, typically see everything that's coming. So he has to be the eyes and the voice for those guys, to help everybody else. So he's always been willing to do whatever it takes to win and if it takes him out of his comfort zone a little bit, he's OK with that."
Darius Garland, another crucial part of the Cavs' future, has formed a dynamic partnership with Mobley in the short time the two have played together. The duo has said they've become close friends. The culmination of on-court chemistry came the other night against the Detroit Pistons, when Garland drove into the lane, drew two defenders to him and then lobbed a no-look alley-oop pass over his head to Mobley, who slammed it home.
"Starting to figure each other out. I’m starting to figure out where he likes it," Garland said. "He’s starting to figure out where I like the ball, where I like to score, where I like to get other people involved. Just building that chemistry really. We’re starting to jell a little bit more. It’s starting to become fun."
"I feel like me and him, we’re close friends, like we talk a lot throughout the day and in the locker room all that," Mobley added. "So I feel like that helps build chemistry as well as on the floor."
Mobley's progress has been both significant and fast-arriving. As he recovers from a sprained elbow that Bickerstaff called a "freak" injury, the Cavs will have to wait a bit until one of the most important parts of their future can return to the lineup and continue his bid for Rookie of the Year.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
Cavaliers at Nets
Time: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
TV: Bally Sports Ohio