The Cleveland Cavaliers burst from the gates at the start of the 2021-22 NBA season. Cleveland went 9-5 through the first 14 games, cementing themselves as one of the surprises of the Eastern Conference and putting the rest of the league on notice in the process. But things took a rather drastic turn for the worse.
Cleveland lost rookie sensation and No. 3 overall pick, Evan Mobley, to a sprained wrist during a Nov. 15 loss to the Boston Celtics. The Cavs haven’t been able to re-establish momentum since, dropping the next two contests to bring the losing streak to three games. That includes a Nov. 18 loss to the Golden State Warriors, when the Dubs outscored the Cavs 36-8 and shockingly turned the contest on its head.
However, while Cleveland’s recent play paints a bleak canvas, the Cavaliers received big news on the Mobley front, information that might ultimately salvage their NBA playoff hopes.
Evan Mobley is progressing in his recovery from an elbow injury
Little did Cavaliers fans know that Evan Mobley proved his intent on staying sharp almost immediately after an MRI confirmed the elbow sprain.
According to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com, Mobley went through an all-left-handed workout before Wednesday’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. No, this didn’t have anything to do with his recovery, but it speaks to Mobley’s drive to improve as he works his way back to the floor.
The Cavs received more welcome news this weekend. Mobley used the injured elbow after Saturday’s practice, per Fedor. He took jumpers and did resistance work with pads before concluding the workout with more lefty work.
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said the team would not rush Mobley back to action. Still, he admitted the excitement at Mobley already talking strides and making progress.
Indeed, the thought of Mobley returning to action sooner rather than later is a tantalizing prospect. The youngster’s two-way excellence made him a leading Rookie of the Year candidate in a frontcourt with fellow talented big man Jarrett Allen.
Mobley dazzled with his exceptional early-season play
Mobley’s skill, athleticism, and length made him a top prospect in the 2021 NBA Draft. He displayed all of those attributes through his first 15 games with the Cavaliers.
The former USC star product posted season averages of 14.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.0 steals while shooting over 49% from the field. He amassed those numbers despite scoring a single point and going 0-of-11 from the field during the Nov. 15 loss to the Celtics.
The Cavs are miles better when Mobley patrols the paint. Cleveland is allowing 112.2 points per 100 possessions without Mobley in the rotation. That number falls to 102.6 when he’s on the floor, a clear indicator of his qualities as a rim protector and versatile defender who can switch on screens and get deflections in the passing lanes.
Defense remains the 20-year-old’s calling card. But he has tremendous offensive upside as a guy who can finish in the restricted area with a series of floaters and should eventually show more comfort handling the ball and shooting from the perimeter. Mobley also runs the floor in transition for dunks and can knock down jumpers or roll hard to the rim for lobs.
The two-way ability and energy Mobley brings are both enormously important to the Cavaliers. They need him on the floor if they hope to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Cavaliers need their rookie star back in the rotation
Evan Mobley’s absence felt especially notable for the Cavaliers during the Nov. 18 loss to the Warriors.
The Cavs held the Dubs mostly in check from the three-point arc, but Golden State scored 48 points in the paint to Cleveland’s 36. Moreover, Cavaliers bigs looked inept in helping on Stephen Curry constantly running around screens in the fourth quarter.
While the Darius Garland-Ricky Rubio backcourt remains capable of playmaking and shot-creation even without Collin Sexton (also injured), and the Cavs still compete hard defensively. But, with Allen also out of the rotation, Cleveland currently lacks a frontcourt presence who threatens opposing teams at the rim on both ends.
Fortunately, Mobley looks like he could return to the fold on the sooner end of the 2-to-4 week he’d initially been given. Cleveland needs him in the frontcourt to stay competitive.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.