Evan Mobley Rob Lorenzo/ESPN Cleveland
Game Night Observations: The Cavs have found their future star
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The Cavs got their first win of the season on Saturday night, knocking off the Atlanta Hawks 101-95 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. After dropping their first two games of the season earlier this week, the Cavs put together their best performance on the defensive end of the floor against the Hawks.
Here are a couple of “first impressions” for the Cavs early on this season.
Ricky Rubio is as helpful as advertised
The Cavs acquired guard Ricky Rubio in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer with the idea that he would be a great mentor to young guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Rubio has spent the last few years in Utah, Phoenix, and Minnesota where he has played along up-and-coming star guards Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, and Anthony Edwards. Garland and Sexton aren’t on the level of Mitchell and Booker yet, but the Cavs certainly hope that they can be.
Rubio, however, still is incredibly helpful on the court, and that was evident on Saturday night. While the best player on the team overall right now is Sexton, and the best player 12 months from now will be rookie Evan Mobley if all goes well. But on Saturday night, Rubio was the best player on the team. The Cavs are a much better team when he’s on the floor most nights. In the win over Atlanta, the Cavs outscored the Hawks by 16 points with Rubio on the floor and he finished with a game-high 23 points.
Evan Mobley is going to be special
The Cavaliers had been relatively unlucky in the NBA Draft Lottery in the aftermath of LeBron James’ second departure from the team back in 2018. This isn’t to say they’ve done a bad job drafting – Collin Sexton at No. 8 in 2018, Darius Garland at No. 5 in 2019, and Isaac Okoro at No. 5 in 2020 were all the correct picks – but rather that they’ve lacked the fortune to draft a true franchise-changing player. Maybe one of those three guys continues their development and becomes a franchise cornerstone, but if they do, it’s probably going to be on a secondary basis.
Evan Mobley is going to be a star, and three games in to the season it’s evident already. He’s not there yet, and it’s going to take some time for his development, but he’s unquestionably the most exciting rookie the Cavs have had since Kyrie Irving in 2011, and James in 2003, before that. Mobley can already do so much to impact winning, even if he isn’t great yet. In his first three games with the Cavs, Mobley has shown why he was the No. 3 overall pick.
Mobley’s outside shot is still a work in progress, but he’s already ahead of the curve in so many areas, and only going to get better. His wingspan is a reported 7-foot-4 and he moves with a fluidity that’s rare for a big man of his size. For now, the Cavs primarily play him at the power forward position, and despite being his size, his future may more be as a swing player between the small and power forwards rather than between the latter and the center position.
On Saturday night, the Cavs deployed Mobley as the point of a 3-2 zone to open the third quarter. After the Cavs trailed the Hawks at the break 55-52, they immediately went on an 8-0 run at the start of the third quarter, prompting an Atlanta timeout. The Cavs ultimately would stretch their lead out to 12 points early on in the third after a Mobley and one.
“He has a huge future in front of him,” veteran forward Kevin Love said. “He’s gonna make, in my mind, and I know Ricky [Rubio] would say the same thing, a number of All-Defensive teams in his career. He’s just getting started.”
Mobley is going to have to continue to add to his game, and probably some muscle as well. But the early impression is that he’s a future multi-time All-Star. The sky is the limit for him, and the Cavs finally have the player to foresee opening a competitive window around.