In one of the closest races in two decades, the award went to Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes, a Florida State product who was a stalwart defender often given tough perimeter assignments every night.
Mobley finished second in the voting, just ahead of the Piston’s Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in last year’s draft.
Scottie Barnes narrowly outpoints Evan Mobley for the Rookie of the Year crown … 378 to 363:
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) April 23, 2022
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Evan Mobley was being penciled in for the award, though.
And while a late injury coupled with Barnes’ helping navigate the Raps to the No. 5 seed prevented Mobley from becoming the Cavs’ third rookie of the year winner (LeBron James and Kyrie Irving), there’s a case that Mobley still should have won.
1. The Future of the League
We live in an era of unicorns.
An era where the three NBA MVP finalists were big men.
No, it isn’t 2003.
Each of Jokic, Giannis, and Embiid are playmaking forces in their own right, who dominate both sides of the ball and have the ability to single-handedly lead a team to the finals.
I don’t mean to be hyperbolic when I say this, but Evan Mobley is that guy.
He’s a non-traditional center, capable of playing point-forward, who in his first year in the league showed he could (almost) will an injury-plagued team to the playoffs.
He’s an excellent defender (more on that), but his offensive numbers are undeniable as well.
Mobley was one of only seven rookies in NBA history to record 15 or more points, eight or more rebounds, two or more assists and more than 1.5 blocks per game.
Only three of those players didn’t win ROY.
He was far from a center who only felt comfortable in the paint; how many times this season did Mobley operate at the arc, facilitating play?
Special stuff from Evan Mobley tonight in MSG: 26 PTS (on just 15 FGAs), 9 REBS, 5 AST and a team-best +26 in 36 MIN. Skill level was on full display. Handling the ball like a guard, scoring + facilitating out of short rolls, spacing the floor from the corners & above the break. pic.twitter.com/7zJoJMoIv9
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 8, 2021
If it’s defense that ROY voters loved seeing out of Barnes, then they should be salivating at Evan Mobley.
The Southern California forward demonstrated an ability to defend virtually every position on the court, blocking the rim and switching onto guards in the pick-and-roll.
Per Statmuse, the Cavs finished with a defensive rating of 109.7 on the season.
Mobley’s dominant play was a significant reason for that; the rookie was one of two Cavs players in the top ten for defensive win shares on the season (the other being Jarrett Allen).
And it’s not just that his defense was incredible.
Mobley found a way to gel his defense with the team’s already rostered center, Jarrett Allen.
How many times have we seen the twin-towers approach fail miserably, with teams targeting one or both en route to the basket and exploiting their weaknesses?
That didn’t happen with the Cavs.
3. Winning Impact
At the end of the day, one stat stands above the rest: wins.
In the preseason, the Cavs’ over-under for win total was the fourth-lowest in the league at 26.5 games.
By the All-Star break, the team had obliterated that total, turning into one of the NBA’s best feel-good storylines.
And by the end of the season, the Cavaliers finished with 44 wins, and though they didn’t break out of the play-in game, they looked the part of legit contenders before injuries plagued the team.
Mobley was absolutely pivotal to the team doubling their season win total from the year before, marking the second-highest jump in team history.
Don’t believe me? Take it from someone who sees Mobley play every single day, Coach Bickerstaff:
“His impact on winning is the most important thing . . .. We should reward guys who play the game with the respect of the game and the bigger picture that the game doesn’t solely revolve around them — their numbers, shots, points and all those things . . .. Evan has ever only done what the team has asked him to do — help contribute to winning.”
While Mobley may not have won this award, he’ll surely be in the running for many, many more in the seasons to come.
Because he’s a winner.