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Cleveland Cavaliers collecting defensive talent

One reason the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled since LeBron James’ departure is lackluster defense. Evan Mobley, a 7-footer with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, can do it all, whether it be protecting the rim, switching onto guards or simply staying in front of his opponent. Mobley alongside other defensive pieces should improve Cleveland’s defense in a big way.

Addressing the Defense

The Cavs’ have struggled defensively since James’ left. In both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, the Cavaliers were last in defensive efficiency. In addition, the Cavs were 25th in defensive efficiency last season.

The Cavaliers have finally pursued improving their defense. In the 2020 NBA Draft, Isaac Okoro was regarded as the best wing defender in the draft. Okoro did struggle his rookie season with a defensive rating of 117.3, but this was due to Cleveland throwing Okoro on the best scorers night in and night out. The defensive potential is still there for Okoro. Acquiring Jarrett Allen through trade helped the Cavs’ rim protection. Drafting Mobley could improve Cleveland’s defense drastically.

Mobley, the Gifted Defender

Defense still matters in the modern NBA, the last three NBA champions were top six in defensive efficiency. The Cavaliers understand defense leads to winning and this is exactly why they have hit defense hard in the offseason. Perhaps Mobley is the last defensive piece needed to see some improvement on defense.

Mobley will likely play power forward alongside Allen in the frontcourt. This gives the Cavaliers two 7-footers in their frontcourt, both are also good shot-blockers. Allen averaged 1.4 blocks last season and Mobley swatted 2.9 shots per game at USC. The 7-footer tandem should give opponents fits at the rim due to their length and shot-blocking ability.

Furthermore, Mobley posted an elite defensive rating of 90.9 at USC. Mobley had a ridiculous block percentage of 8.8% in college. In the NBA, the career leader in block percentage is Shawn Bradley at 7.83%. More than likely, Mobley isn’t going to have the same block percentage at the professional level, but it still should be good. One area of concern is Mobley’s size at only 215 pounds. At power forward, his lack of size can be hid somewhat, but in certain post up situations it will be exposed. Regardless, Mobley should be an immediate impact for Cleveland’s defense. Tyler Metcalf of Hashtag Basketball scouted Mobley’s defensive ability,

Mobley’s combination of length, athleticism, and instincts makes him an exceptional defender in all areas of the floor. He is an excellent shot-blocker who uses verticality and doesn’t bite on shot fakes. He has the footwork and athleticism to also switch on the perimeter.

 

I fully expect Mobley to reach the levels of an All-NBA level defender, but he will struggle early in his career because of this lack of strength.

Defensive Pieces Off Bench

The Cavaliers are starting to amass defensive talent all over the roster. As mentioned, Okoro, Mobley and Allen have good defensive upside. Off the bench, Cleveland should have some good defensive help as well. When Larry Nance Jr. was healthy last season, he was a great defender. Opponents scored -9.3 points per 100 possessions when Nance was on the court, this was in the 97th percentile of the NBA. Also, Nance was 10th in the NBA with a steal percentage of 2.5. Clearly, these are elite defensive numbers for Nance.

Right before the 2021 NBA Draft kicked off, the Cavs acquired Ricky Rubio via trade. Rubio should be a pretty solid backup point guard for Cleveland. Rubio had a rough season last year in Minnesota, but he has played some impressive defense across his career. First off, Rubio’s career-low in steals per game is 1.3 steals during the 2018-19 season. Rubio has always had a knack for getting his hand on the ball and creating turnovers.

Cleveland Cavaliers Collecting Good Defensive Talent
Ricky Rubio with the Jazz in the 2018-19 season (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Defensive rating is essentially how many points a player gives up per 100 possessions. The lower your defensive rating, the better. According to Stat Muse, the average defensive rating during the 2020-21 season was 112.3. In Rubio’s 10 seasons, he has six seasons with a defensive rating of 107 or lower. For comparison, a defensive rating of 107 in 2021 would have been tied for fifth in the NBA with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Rubio’s career defensive rating of 107.3 is a huge upgrade off the bench compared to Collin Sexton and Darius Garland‘s career defensive ratings that are over 118.

With Nance and Rubio backing up the talented defensive starters Okoro, Mobley and Allen, Cleveland’s defense should improve.

 

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