Last season, the Cavaliers gave fans a reason to dream big.
Heading into the season, the Cavs were expected to win 26 regular season games.
For clarity, the regular season stretched from October 20, 2021, to April 10, 2022.
The Cavs had 27 wins by January 17.
Maybe there should also be a reason to expect the Cavs to feature an individually great season as well.
Like, say, Evan Mobley winning Defensive Player of the Year?
Let’s go back to January 17th for a minute.
The Cavs’ 27th win against the Brooklyn Nets featured a pedestrian defensive performance by rookie Evan Mobley: 12 points, one block, and six rebounds.
It was a far cry from where Mobley would finish the season: 8.3 rebounds per game, 1.8 blocks, and 3.7 defensive win shares (DWS).
If Evan Mobley can consistently do these type of things on the court the Cavs can be a top 4 seed in the east! pic.twitter.com/rBR8PUnMJ5
— Austin Rich (@ColtAustinRich) July 17, 2022
He also posted a defensive plus/minus of plus-2.3, which was in the 96th percentile last season.
That figure was also the same as Robert Williams III, Smart’s Celtics teammate, and fellow late-season defensive juggernaut.
Mobley did all of this . . . wait for it . . .
As a rookie.
On that January 17th win, Mobley couldn’t even buy himself a beer to celebrate.
But even those comparisons aren’t fair, because, as Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes pointed out, Mobley is a one-of-one:
“He averaged 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks as a 20-year-old rookie, figures never before produced by a player so young. The age-20 seasons of Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal make the cut if you remove the assists from the equation and trim blocks down to 1.0 per game, but the point should be clear: We’ve never seen anyone quite like Mobley.”
Mobley was also the No. 3 pick last year, so expectations were understandably high.
But somehow he found a way to shred the loftiest of expectations.
And he’s primed to do it again as a sophomore.
Mobley will enter next season a fringe first-team All-Defense member.
That’s without even touching a basketball.
If Mobley improves his defensive numbers even marginally next season, he’ll likely finish in the top-three of DPOY voting.
What would a “marginal” defensive improvement look like, exactly?
Well, we start with last year’s tallies: 8.3 boards, 1.8 blocks, 2.5 assists, and 15 points.
What if he goes for 10 boards and 2.5 blocks?
3 unique forms of Evan Mobley’s very underrated offensive ceiling displayed here:
1. Brutalizing Jayson Tatum
2. Receives a (bad) pass on the wing, blows by Scottie Barnes off the bounce, draws help, and hits a sick dump off pass
3. Self-created middy from the top of the key pic.twitter.com/V9Wo3pDk5Y
— NBA University (@NBA_University) July 23, 2022
Okay, maybe those aren’t “marginal” improvements.
But they are attainable goals.
And if he does reach them, Mobley would have led the NBA in blocks and finished top-12 in rebounds.
He also would have similar defensive numbers to Robert Williams III’s 2021-22 stats.
Further, in categories like team pace and minutes played, Mobley’s not far behind.
He’ll need to drop his defensive rating just a bit (107 last season), but with improved numbers and experience that should come naturally.
Again, Williams was arguably the best defender in the league’s second half last season.
If Mobley plays with that level for an entire campaign, he’s a shoo-in for DPOY.