Early returns: Thoughts on Evan Mobley's summer league debut
Summer league is always meant to be taken with enough salt to give you hypertension. I know this, you know this, your friends know this and your family knows this. With that, a summer league box score is next to useless, barring extremes on either side of the spectrum.
We're absolutely clowning a dude that goes, like, 3-for-20 in a game. We're also going crazy when a dude drops 47 (like Anthony Morrow in '09) or even 40 (like Furkan Korkmaz in '18). Of course, the fact that both had a 40-piece and aren't (or weren't) close to stars further drives the point home.
Anyway, Sunday's contest between the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers was a fun time, man.
The Rockets snagged an 84-76 win, but that doesn't really matter. The entire appeal of the game was the top-3 battle between Rockets guard Jalen Green and the Cavaliers' big Evan Mobley.
Green led all scorers with 23, but even that point total doesn't matter. That man had flashes. Pick-and-rolls were run with veteran poise. There were contested finishes at the rim and finesse buckets around the outstretched arms of defenders.
The pull-up, step-back, and side-step game was on display. He boogied on fools to the point where people sitting around me openly questioned if he should even be playing summer league ball.
Mobley didn't have a game like that.
The box score, as meaningless as it ultimately is, was a bit underwhelming: 12 points (5-for-17 shooting), five rebounds, three blocks in 27 minutes. The Cavs were outscored by — okay, we're not doing summer league plus-minus talk — Even I have a code. Nevermind.
Green absolutely shined brighter than Mobley in this contest, but it's important to note:
- That doesn't mean Mobley didn't shine in his own way, and;
- We shouldn't be questioning the ceiling, or the boom-or-bust nature of either guy. Let's calm down a bit.
Here are my primary takeaways from Mobley's debut.
THE SELF-CREATION PATH IS CLEAR
The entire allure of Mobley is that there's nothing usual about his game on either end. This is a legit seven-footer with ball skills and wing-like touch. Seriously, this isn't supposed to be possible.
Mobley gets the ball dislodged, recovers, then finishes with a... wrong-footed twisting floater? What do you do with that?
Insane flash aside, the formula for Mobley's on-ball success comes with him facing toward the basket, not away with it. He has a good enough first step and accompanying handle to blow by bigs. Against smaller defenders, he can simply shoot over the top of them, thanks to his high release point.
This might've been my favorite miss of the night from Mobley:
I love the initial design — a staggered screen look that turns into a pindown for Mobley. The fun stuff comes a little later, where he gives off the illusion of a handoff before attacking, spinning, then tossing up a little push shot that goes off the front iron.
Asking centers to track Mobley over screens 24 feet from the basket is a tall task. Dealing with that kind of release point on top of that is a non-starter; that's the beauty of a prospect like this. Face-ups and actions designed to let him attack on the move are natural pathways to success.
Your classic dump-it-on-the-block possessions are decidedly not it. Mobley doesn't have the core strength to consistently dislodge guys. It shows up before the shot, too. There were multiple possessions where Mobley attempted to establish deep post positioning and either outright failed to do so, or gained an advantage and quickly lost it.
It, uh, ain't great.
Let Mobley operate in delay sets and flow into dribble handoffs. Run him off screens. Heck, let him run some inverted ball screens. Just about anything is better than posting him up.
THE DEFENSE IS REAL
While the offensive archetype was and is intriguing for Mobley, the defense is the real selling point. Even with his current strength concerns, Mobley is able to operate in virtually any scheme you ask of him. He can drop, can come to the level of the screen, can hedge, all-out blitz, and can switch when necessary.
There's been the "boring" stuff — mirroring guys on the perimeter, rotating in a timely fashion, using his endless arms to disrurpt drivers as a help guy. There were also some loud plays; his block-then-foul sequence against Alperen Sengun was fun, as was his ridiculous block against Josh Christopher.
Mobley was a bit jumpy in his debut. His discipline against pump fakes were a far cry from what we saw during his stint at USC, but also... His foul rate at USC was anomalously low to begin with. I'm not giving failing marks for jumpiness in a summer league debut.
Mobley has the goods, and should be a neutral or positive impact defender in Year 1. That is not an easy thing to accomplish as a rookie big man with strength concerns.
THIS ISN'T THE SETTING FOR MOBLEY
As far as summer league hot takes go, this is as far as I'm willing to bend. I think Mobley's going to have a middling showing during his stint in Vegas, barring a drastic shift in usage. And by drastic shift, I mean literally treating Mobley like Zion Williamson and letting him run the action as a quasi point-center.
Mobley already isn't a post threat. Those kind of guys tend to look good in these settings — hello Mr. Sengun (though he does more than that, of course), and also Luka Garza — and we've gone over why posting up Mobley isn't a bad idea.
That means he'll need to rely on others to give him the ball.