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What’s fueled Cavs’ Evan Mobley’s aggressive on-court presence? A New Year’s resolution
By Kelsey Russo
Mar 18, 2023
CLEVELAND — As the 2022 calendar year came to a close and neared the beginning of 2023, Evan Mobley
made a New Year’s resolution.
He wanted to make some changes. Mobley had a conversation with the coaching staff about the impact he would have on the Cavs and the game. So, he decided he would be in the weight room more. He also wanted to make a concerted effort to be more aggressive on the floor.
“Just from there, trying to become as great as I can,” Mobley told The Athletic.
“I feel like the weight room can definitely help me with that. So I’ve been as active in there as I can and also active on the court.”
Since the beginning of January, Mobley has been in the weight room. Game days. Practice days. He hasn’t changed his routine in the weight room but found his way to the weight room more often.
“I don’t think he’s taken a day off to the point where we probably need to tell him to get out of the weight room,” Donovan Mitchell
said. “No one told him to do that. No one said this is what you should do. He took it upon himself. And you look at the way he’s played since the beginning of 2023. Like the way his game — and not to say that he was playing poorly — but he just took it to another level on both ends of the floor. And now you’re seeing the credit he deserves. He’s third in defensive player of the year
. He should be first, to be completely honest with you.”
With the makeup of the Cavs’ roster and having multiple ball-dominant guards, the bigs had to find and pick their spots without interfering with the rest of the offense. It played a factor in Mobley’s lower offensive production at the start of the season. In December, Mobley averaged 13.8 points per game, his lowest month of the season.
But that flipped when the calendar turned to 2023. He’s tried to be as aggressive as possible and build a level of consistency with that aggressiveness throughout the entirety of the game. He’s noticed his progress up to this point and sees it as preparation as they gear up for the playoffs.
Mobley averaged 17.1 points per game in January and is averaging 17.4 points per game through nine games in March. He had his highest-scoring month in February, averaging 19.2 points per game.
He feels stronger. He also appears stronger, handling and fighting through contact with more ease. Mobley displayed that strength in battling against Kristaps Porziņģis
on Friday night and Joel Embiid
two days earlier.
“When you have that mentality of throwing around weights and throwing around iron, you feel stronger, and you’re willing to go seek out more because you know you can hit and still finish,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “And I think he’s just growing in confidence, his strength and his ability to finish through traffic. And I think that’s why he’s been getting hit and getting to the free throw line more.”
Mobley is getting to the free-throw line more frequently. He noticed his matchups had been timing his shot, so he made the adjustment to pump-fake, which many have been jumping and drawing the contact.
In February, he took 4.3 free throw attempts per game, and in March, he took 5.9 attempts per game. His free-throw percentage has fluctuated throughout the season, but in nine games in March, he is averaging the most free throws made this season at 3.7.
“I feel like as a big guy, if I give a good pump fake, they’re probably going to go for it,” Mobley said following Friday’s 117-94 win over the Wizards
. “If they don’t, I’m already at the basket. I’ve just been pump-faking more, and then once they’re in the air just trying to draw contact and get the foul, and one. That’s really what I’ve been doing lately.”
Mobley has also been attacking the lane, which causes opposing defenses to collapse on him and opens up his teammates in different spots on the floor. When Mobley catches the ball in the pocket, Bickerstaff explained he has angles and different advantages.
“He’s elite in the pocket and the capability of making all the plays from there,” Bickerstaff said. “He can pass it; obviously, he can finish it, but there’s not a lot that he can’t do when he catches the ball in that space and puts a ton of pressure on defenses.”
Mobley’s aggressiveness on the court makes the Cavs a stronger team, because of how he can push the ball off the rebound from one end of the floor to the other, he can play one-on-one basketball and take challenges against opposing bigs. He’s playing with a higher level of physicality.
Mobley has moved over to play at the five while the Cavs have been without Jarrett Allen
– who has missed four games with an eye contusion. Mobley is in more actions and pick-and-rolls when he is the only big on the floor. Darius Garland
has noticed how Mobley is taking advantage of those pick-and-rolls. He’s making the right reads in the pocket, as well as shooting his mid-range shots. But it’s a role he feels comfortable in while they wait for Allen’s return.
“I think it’s the overall mindset that he has of where he’s hunting more and searching more opportunities,” Bickerstaff said. “And again, credit his commitment to the weight room and his ability to dish out some pounding instead of being the one who’s taking it. But I think that’s helped him a ton. It helps him rebound in traffic. It helps him finish in traffic. He’s already such an elite passer and playmaker from there; now he can absorb, contact, finish or make the next right play.
“So I think he’s just continuing to grow, and he’s only going to get better.”
Mobley continues to be in the conversation for defensive player of the year. Recently, NBA.com
ranked Mobley third in the defensive player ladder, behind Brook Lopez and Jaren Jackson Jr. Mobley ranks eighth in the league in total contested 2s at 520. He is tied for second in contested 3s per game at 3.6 per game, but is first in the league in total contested 3s at 255. Mobley is sixth in the league in contested shots per game at 11.1, and third overall in total contested shots at 775.
Bickerstaff and many of his teammates believe Mobley has taken that second-year leap this season. After an impressive rookie season — when many among the Cavs believed he should have been the Rookie of the Year — he came into this season looking to continue to have a winning impact. It’s a trait Bickerstaff has consistently pointed to about Mobley, a unique quality that sets him apart.
And while his teammates have witnessed his nightly impact, they’ve also watched Mobley grow and find more of who he is as a basketball player. They know he’ll continue to grow as well.
“You see the flashes of the things he does on the floor, and that’s actually pretty tough,” Garland said. “And you can see it while you’re just watching. I mean, it definitely goes through my mind. He’s going to be really, really good in this league. And I mean, he just shows a glimpse of it every night. A couple possessions tonight, he was hitting a couple fades, facing up Porziņģis, getting to the mid-range. I mean, that’s just little stuff that he just gets to all the time.
“So I mean, you can see little glimpses of it, but I mean he’s, he’s going to be an All-Star in this league for sure.”