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Draft Watch: Can Evan Mobley keep the Raptors’ window open?

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Mobley in Toronto would fill the team’s significant need at centre. He’s the best big man in the draft and fits the Raptors’ defensive schemes like a glove. It’s unlikely that he falls to #4, even though the squad would love to have him.

Oregon v USC Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Could Evan Mobley fall to the Raptors? It’s a question we have to ask given Toronto’s current need for a starting (and starring) centre and Mobley’s status as the best big man in the 2021 NBA Draft class.

The biggest variables are represented, of course, by the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers who hold picks number two and three. With Cade Cunningham a lock at number one, Mobley’s destination will come down to how these two teams see the remaining prospects.

To summarize: Jalen Suggs is a much better fit for the Houston Rockets since they clearly don’t operate on John Wall’s timeline anymore. There’s also some duplication between Christian Wood and Evan Mobley, and the same thing could be said of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. However, Green and Mobley might be a better fit for their run-and-gun offense though. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have invested in Jarrett Allen. Can they play both him and Mobley? As for the guard/wing options, they also already have Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Isaac Okoro — so what place would Suggs or Green have?

There are just enough questions above to open the door on the idea of the Raptors getting a chance to select Mobley. Yes, it remains unlikely, but not improbable. In that spirit, let’s take a look at what Mobley can do — and what he would bring to Toronto.

Evan Mobley

  • Age: 20
  • Height: 7’0”
  • Wingspan: 7’4”
  • Team: USC (Freshman)
  • College Stats: 16.4 PTS (57.8%), 30% 3P%, 8.7 REB, 2.4 AST, 2.2 TO, 2.9 BLK

Why Evan?

Almost every year, we hear of players with what I’ll call the “Chris Bosh starter pack”. This is how NBA Draft analysis is done, comparing upcoming players with ones we already know. In this case, that description is typically reserved for long, skinny, and nimble frontcourt prospects. Often it applies to raw and lefty players in particular. And sadly, not many (or any?) of these prospects live up to the description. (As we know, there was only one Bosh.)

Enter Mobley, who, despite being a righty, is getting compared to Chris Bosh. Their measurements are close, with Mobley just a bit taller and longer, but the similarities don’t end there. They’re both slender, and light on their feet, which they both use to their advantage — on both ends of the court.

Both players have excellent touch around the rim, up to the short-range. Mobley is probably more advanced than Bosh at the same age as he can finish going left or right with either hand. Much like Bosh though, it’s easy to project that Mobley will keep increasing his range. He’s able to shoot the three now, and there’s little doubt that will be part of his NBA repertoire in full.

So what about the difference between Mobley and our stand-in comp, Bosh? The signs so far are good. For one, Mobley is a better passer (in both recognition and execution) than Bosh was at the same age. In college, Mobley was allowed to make passes in many situations, e.g. drive-and-kicks, short rolls, and in the high post, which helped develop that part of his game. He’s also entering the league with a much better handle, which should be good enough against most centres in the NBA. Finally, Mobley definitely looks to have a quicker bounce than Bosh, whether he’s getting the ball in the dunker’s spot or on drives, Mobley can get up real quick.

All in all, while time will tell if Mobley can actually surpass Bosh in his career, the abilities are there.

There’s another Raptors comparison to bring up here: Chris Boucher. Mobley, much like Boucher, is a guaranteed bucket on rolls and cuts to the basket if he doesn’t meet initial resistance. Both players struggle when they get bumped, but Mobley has shown an ability to adjust and develop something after the bump. He’s also got a plan B, his floater that uses his full extension if he reads a defender trying to get between him and the rim on his short rolls.

Like Boucher (and most young big men with bounce), Mobley chases blocks around the rim, but he’s also shown more than a few flashes of Bosh’s perimeter defense ability. He reads and executes defensive schemes well for a young big man and doesn’t look totally lost when outside of the paint. This would be a huge plus for a Raptors team that needs players who can play defense.

I think Mobley’s ceiling is high enough that he could develop to be a 1B player on a playoff team. His ultimate ceiling will likely come down to how well he (and his team) can expand his offensive game — and if he can be strong enough to play as a centre. Mobley does have an empty canvas feel with the basic fundamental skill set. It feels like he could basically learn any skill and apply it in the NBA.

Areas of Concern

This is maybe not the most pressing issue, but with every young player, we have to wonder how they’ll hold up in the NBA. In this case, Evan Mobley’s weight is an area of concern. He’s skinny right now — or at least his listed weight during his freshman year at USC. However, my bigger concern about his weight is how the Raptors’ organization will handle Mobley’s physical development. Can they help him get stronger without compromising his other physical advantage over other players at this position?

Exhibit A: Jonas Valanciunas. JV came in as a skinny centre with skills that drew a comparison to a young Tyson Chandler, who generated his offense as a vertical threat on rolls and lobs. The Raptors had a much better idea and instead turned him into a lumbering big, like a clone of Jamaal Magloire. If there’s a weakness in the Raptors’ player development, at least at that time, it’s on the physical development. They are not the Miami Heat in this regard.

Ironically, the other more complicated matters of skill development — like shooting, polishing a face-up game, etc. — I have complete trust in the Raptors development team. As mentioned, Mobley strikes me as a player who has the raw tools and IQ to learn anything needed of him in the NBA.

But still, some have questioned whether Mobley is a center or not. For Toronto, if he ends up being stronger than Boucher, the answer is he’s a centre. The Raptors have experimented with their schemes to defend Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo without Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and the dollar-store replacements they found last season. Their success convinced me that they don’t need a traditional big.

Raptors Fit

This is an easy answer. Mobley fills the big gaping hole in the middle of the lineup for the Raptors. People might say, “but wait, he’s too skinny to play that position right now.” Technically, that’s true. But teams have been downsizing at that position. Outside of Joel Embiid, there’s really nobody out there who can punish him much. Some Raptors fans might remember this, but the Raptors threw Chris Bosh to the wolves to play centre during his rookie season. It wasn’t pretty at times due to the physicality of the era, but he held his own for the most part.

As mentioned above, the Raptors have the defensive schemes to support Mobley at the position. He’s best right now playing drop coverage, as his length, quickness allows him to “cheat” the coverage and instantly commit either way. He’s also capable of switches, and his rotation off hedges shows a lot of promise. Mobley quickly recognizes the immediate rotation (which is not necessarily just crashing the paint as traditional bigs do) and has the foot speed to get there quickly. Aside from weight/strength, he pretty much checks the list of must-haves for a Raptors big man.

Mobley’s addition should allow Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to slide back to their natural position and terrorize opposing players outside the paint. If the Raptors end up re-signing Khem Birch, it would make sense to bring Mobley off the bench as he gradually takes over the starting role.

On offense, Mobley is an excellent vertical threat, whether he’s at the dunker’s spot or via rolls to the basket. He can space a little bit and cut to the basket or crash the boards from a distance. Mobley is able to operate in the pick-and-roll, which will be important if he ends up paired with second-year guard Malachi Flynn. That’s a young tandem that could work well together if given a chance.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of a potential Mobley selection to me is Kyle Lowry’s situation. If Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster decide to play the middle again, they should bring Lowry back. Heck, give him the dollars that he’s looking for. I think having Lowry as part of Mobley’s early developmental phase would do wonders for him and the team in general. Mobley doesn’t have to be the featured player right away, but much like Bosh during his rookie year, he can slide between being the 3rd-5th option at any point of the game — and learn from some of the best while gaining his footing in the league.