Bricktown Beat

2021 Draft Scouting: Evan Mobley should enamor scouts with unicorn-like potential

Mark J. Terrill/AP

Unicorns. In Mythology, unicorns are known to be the fiercest of animals, the hastiest, the most commanding, and the most mysterious of all creatures. For centuries, people have been enamored by the unicorn, both by its graceful yet powerful nature, or the “Candy Mountain”, or riches, they may lead to.

In basketball terminology — the unicorn holds the same namesake, and every scout is out searching in the wilderness. With a unicorn, you are expected to not only have a long, majestic frame of a modern big but also acquire the skillset of premier point guards in the league. Shooting, handling, passing, defending, you name it — a unicorn already has it.

As scouts and GMs alike are out tracing this mystical creature’s footsteps, one may be prancing right up their noses — that man is Evan Mobley.

Measurables

Brian Rothmuller/NBAE via Getty Images

Evan Mobley fits the bill of a unicorn to a tee. Mobley stands at a lengthy 7-feet tall playing at the center, but with a weight sitting at 215-pounds, the former Trojan shares company with scoring machines in Kevin Durant and Brandon Ingram from solely looking off measurables (playing Devil’s Advocate, Dragon Bender was listed at 7-foot-1, 225-pounds pre-draft.) With Mobley’s unique slimmed-down build, he compliments it nicely with a 7-foot-4 wingspan slotting himself with Kawhi Leonard in this category, having Durant holding an inch advantage. On top of this, Mobley is currently 19-years-old meaning his frame is nowhere close to being at its finished product.

Strengths

+ Rim Protection

As a unicorn, you must be able to hold your ground when somebody crosses your line. Playing at 215-pounds, Evan Mobley seems like a relatively graceful opponent, but as soon as you go at him — you’re shot flying into the third row.

Mobley played at an elite level protecting the basket for the Trojans this season, not just from a rejection standpoint, but also in maintaining a large level of discipline through it all. Averaging 33.9 minutes a contest, Mobley recorded 2.9 blocks while just fouling defenders 1.8 times a night, that level of efficiency is unprecedented at his current level.

Mobley made his impact heard at all levels on defense, taking advantage of his 7-foot-4 wingspan to stuff larger defenders at the rim, get a fingertip on guards’ drives, and even disrupt a jumpshot from well outside 15-feet. And as mentioned previously, he did this all while fouling players 1.8 times.

As a shot blocker, Mobley not only can closeout on shots, but he can show off some impressive vertical when tested right around the iron. For a player having some question marks on size, he levels, and really shifts the playing field with his shot-blocking skills.

+ Elite Defending off Screens

With the NBA becoming more and more prevalent in creating perimeter looks for guards, screens have become a staple across all 30 franchises — and finding a suitable counterattack is become more difficult by the day. Evan Mobley poses a major solution at the five.

Evan Mobley can do-it-all defending off screens. At his size, Mobley possessed pristine quickness, both in a lateral and general sense. With this, he’s able to hold his own hedging on screens, dropping back on screens, and even switching onto guards entirely with little drop-off in production.

When you look at Mobley from a physical standpoint, his 7-foot height and 7-foot-4 wingspan stare right at you — those qualities are also staring at his opponents the entire game. Factoring in is his aforementioned rim-protecting skills, there’s no cop-out for guards to beat Mobley off a drive or even stepback, he has the gameplan right on the table. His vertical coupled with his wingspan make options for guards as slim as you can get as even in drop coverages runners and floaters are faulty because he can simply take one step up — elevate — and stuff the ball. Even in the case that you Mobley gives up the corner, he can still chasedown blocks on occasion too.

The number of current NBA centers dominant in all factors of screen coverages can likely be counted on one hand, Mobley makes a serious case to flick up an extra finger.

+ Potential Defensive Versatility

Evan Mobley’s unique combination of shot blocking and lateral quickness as a 7-footer makes him a potential multi-positional defender.

Mobley’s lateral movements are unprecedented at his size. His side-to-side shuffles not only take up a colossal amount of space, but he’s also very articulate in his movement so there’s little daylight turning the corner and stepping back — he can still close-out on smaller matchups. In isolation situations, Mobley can mirror defenders’ movements down to a science with his hips. These key body rotations make it extremely difficult to get him running the wrong way and hence raise the question if he can be a legitimate defender up top.

Mobley took on small-ball fives and back-court figures throughout the regular-season and in those contests, he never truly got exploited. Mobley is almost caught in a KD body at 215-pounds meaning that also weight-wise, he stacks up. 

Mobley showed at the college level he could take on smaller matchups consistently if he can assert himself at the perimeter — his options are endless.

+ Ball-Handling Skills

For Evan Mobley, ball-handling was one of his better-hidden secrets, but his tape handling the rock deserves serious credit.

Mobley possesses the savory ability to run the floor after scalping down a rebound. In most cases, Mobley would corral the board, cross the timeline, and look to distribute up top — but when he went full throttle inside, it yielded success. Going coast-to-coast, Mobley’s long strides put bigs and some forwards left in the dust meaning if he wanted to cap off plays inside, there weren’t any large obstacles in his way.

When playing in the halfcourt, Evan Mobley also had tricks up his sleeve to work inside. Mobley’s push crosses and between-the-legs moves were predominant factors as to how he found angles slashing to the basket. Most of the time, these moves got him a glimpse at the basket, but then he reached into his tools of finishing inside using spin moves to swim around his defender for shots.

+ Pick and Roll Offense

As outlined before, the importance of screens has been colossal in the last 10 years, but in order to have a successful product off screens — you need a versatile screen setter. Evan Mobley has shown to be just that.

Coming off high ball screens, Mobley is quick enough that he’s able to beat his defender to the basket almost every time barring some sort of help defense. When paired with top-tier playmakers in the pick and roll, he’s able to tower up and snag loft passes, wait under the rim for a potential dump-off, or simply elevate for an alley-oop finish. When it comes to interior scoring off screens, he’s a small forward trapped in a 7-foot body.

Even as a potential spot-up shooter in a pick and pop, Evan Mobley has shown globs of potential both from the mid-range and three that can fill out his screen game entirely. Mobley didn’t have a lot of reps shooting in this area, but there is a just case that he can fill his distance shooting out too. Add this with a handle allowing him to slash, and his boundaries here may be endless.

+ Shooting Potential

Mobley’s track record on shooting the basketball makes his resume pretty incomplete in this area, but he at times showed the ability to shoot the basketball on the catch and bounce fairly comfortably.

If Mobley can truly develop a jumper at the next level, his unicorn status is engraved and the only question level is how far his limits may be. Given he’s playing predominantly center under his current frame and speed, any jumper will make him a legitimate nightmare for other fives.

Weaknesses

Strength/Frame

For Evan Mobley, his current slimmed-down build gives him clear positives when running the floor, but they also come with some downsides.

At 215-pounds, Mobley held up strong against centers at the college level, but there’s a clear jump when pivoting to the NBA. In transition, guard or big, Mobley takes his weight out of the picture with his length, the real question mark comes in the post though.

The center position has transformed drastically in recent years as teams look to play small, go perimeter-centric, or almost cut positional locks completely from a rotation. Evan Mobley stacks up perfectly against these archetypes, but the old school, back-to-basket bigs could make him vulnerable early. Premier post players in Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, and even Enes Kanter have made back downs and post hooks their point of attack in the league and for most lean centers, all of these guys pose serious issues. Rebounding wise, Evan Mobley’s wingspan and speed open the window for potential snag blocks, but facing top offensive rebounders, he may meet his number. Ideas of Mobley dropping to the power forward position have come and gone as it would wash away his primary hole on defense, but if he’s running true center — he needs to adapt here either weight-wise or on fundamentals.

Settles on Drives

Evan Mobley has an eye-catching approach to driving to the basket, but sometimes his determination to snag a quick bucket comes to bite him.

Mobley has a great motor slashing, but once he commits to penetrating — he ends up getting tunnel vision far too often. In these situations, Mobley is prone to force unsolicited turnarounds, fades, or just stagnate with the ball if stopped in the mid-range. When attacking in the paint, Mobley shrinks up, dropping his head near his defender’s stomach level. If he can’t will his way an angle, he’s not locked up in the post for more contested shots.

When Mobley was surveying the floor, he had spurts of finding his teammates, even averaging 2.4 assists this season. The problem is once he’s at the point of no return — there’s trouble.

Free Throw Shooting/Shooting Mechanics

Evan Mobley pieced together decent runs shooting the basketball, but he’s still no guarantee outside.  

Typically, a good indicator for college-level prospects is looking at free throw percentages for insight on a potential jumper. With the Trojans, Mobley shot 69.4-percent on 5.8 attempts a game. Taking into account his minutes and attempts, this isn’t terrible for a center, but as a benchmark 80-percent is right where you’d like to be. In defense for Mobley, a lot of multi-year college prospects start around the 70-percent mark and gradually increase over time so you can’t completely write off Mobley here.

Getting into nitpick territory, Mobley has the basics of a jumpshot down, but his jumper could be a bit faster.

Overall:

Evan Mobley is one of the scariest frontcourt defenders not just in his draft class (takes number one spot by a mile), but the NBA in general.

His elite ability to reject at the rim, restrain from fouling, and defend off screens one through five make him a future defensive powerhouse for his future team. You add this with star quality in mirroring his defenders and he could genuinely defend the perimeter for high lengths of a game.

On the offensive side, Mobley is a player who will be productive playing in the pick and roll, going in transition, and even penetrating on his own. His unique quickness added with seeds of ball-handling make him a slasher by nature who can even score while in the post. His shooting ability still is a question mark, but even some adequate efficiency would make him an all-around player.

Evaluation: Elite Defender with Shades of Chris Bosh

When you take into account all the abilities Evan Mobley has shown, there is little doubt that he’ll be a defensive monster for years to come, his offensive game really pushes his game to new heights though.

At his floor, Evan Mobley will be a top defender in the frontcourt. Discussions of Mobley’s position are valid and that wrinkle will be handled by whoever selects him — he’ll be fine at power forward or center. Mobley’s lean body type may never change but in terms of weight, he’ll be weighing 230-240 pounds if diet and training are put under a microscope early. His skill to reject plays both inside and on closeouts is extremely special and given his defensive instincts off screens and isolation, he’s going to be a premier player regardless of how his offensive game shapes out.

As an offensive player, Mobley checks the boxes for a starting-level center and brings even more to the table. Mobley’s skill at rolling to the basket makes him a useful offensive cog from the get-go. Off a rebound, his threat to take the ball coast-to-coast to create for himself or others is dangerous and should most definitely carry over, and so should his dribbling in halfcourt given he shores up on errant shot taking.

The major question the distinguishes Mobley from an elite defender with slashing ability and an all-around stud comes from his shooting, and that is yet to be a certainty. Luckily with a floor so high, even if he doesn’t pan out shooting he’s a key contributor upfront, but a shot for Mobley would be scary. Mobley was a solid shooter in college with little reps outside, but a lot from three. If he can become a catch-and-shoot scorer he already passes the test, any extras such as shooting off the dribble are luxuries. Mobley is very reminiscent of Chris Bosh from an offensive standpoint as both have a nice handle, touch, and shoot slow but meticulous jumpers on and off the ball. Bosh’s sunset stages almost solely honed in on shooting, Mobley has a long way to get there, but anywhere close will be huge for whoever lands him.

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