Early Returns Look Promising on the Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen Frontcourt

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Early Returns Look Promising on the Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen Frontcourt

NBA

Early Returns Look Promising on the Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen Frontcourt

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Cleveland made a bold conceptual move after they took a slam dunk pick at number three in Evan Mobley and decided to pay Jarrett Allen 20 million dollars per year. Both were the right moves to make but investing so heavily in two 7+ foot tall big men in the modern NBA is in theory a risk.

This is a league where smaller lineups are becoming the everyday lineup. A rotation with two big men is only supposed to work in NBA 2K and not in real life. That is unless the skill sets of the two big men perfectly complement each other.

The center position is ever-evolving and the two big men in Cleveland interestingly enough represent both the old and new school version of an NBA center. Evan Mobley can play on the perimeter. He can dribble, pass, and shoot and has “guard-like skills” as people call them. Jarrett Allen solely thrives around the basket, finishing plays others create on offense and swatting shots away at the rim with force on defense.

What do their first eight games together show us about how they fit as a frontcourt duo? While there are still lots of kinks to work out, the flashes are very encouraging and highlight lots of ways this experiment can work out in the years to come. 

An important side note before we start to look at some clips. Some of these clips are far more about the concept than the actual result of the given play. In other words, we’re evaluating the journey and not the destination. This way we can properly evaluate the tendencies of both players that will contribute to their performance and chemistry moving forward.  

As previously stated, Mobley perfectly represents the direction the big man position is headed. One of his more special traits is his basketball IQ and ability to play off instincts. A lot of this bleeds into his passing skills which we’ll look into it a bit.

In this play, the Cavs are running in transition. Mobley and Allen are close together and both looking to run into the paint for a lob. With one defender in front of them, Mobley screens Melton which frees up Allen in the paint. Garland dumps it off to Allen and it’s an easy basket. This wasn’t part of a designed play; just highly intuitive basketball from Evan Mobley. 

In order for this pairing to be effective, extra passing and secondary advantage creating will be important for Mobley and Allen. Luckily one of Mobley’s most unique traits is his passing.

Here, Garland is stripped for a moment by Kyle Anderson who beautifully hedges the ball screen. Once Garland gets the ball back, Mobley waits and gets the ball with a runway since both defenders went for the loose ball. Adams steps up to meet Mobley but by that point, Mobley has spotted Allen cutting from the baseline and making a nice shovel pass. Passes like this as a roll man from Mobley to Allen off-ball cuts or in the dunker spot will be crucial for their play together. 

Another example of Mobley’s short roll passing in the PnR and Allen’s play finishing can be seen in this play. Mobley slips out of the screen early and Ball gets caught in the middle and isn’t prepared for the high pass from Sexton. Bridges has to rotate over and tag Mobley as the roller but that leaves his man Allen open.

Again, we see another incredibly high leverage pass from Mobley. He catches the ball, turns his body and eyes around in mid-air to spot Allen cutting baseline, and whips an accurate pass to him. Expect plays like this to be most effective against traps and aggressive hedges. Both of those ball screen coverages require the help defenders to make perfect rotations. 

Here’s the final example of Mobley’s passing meshing with Allen’s cutting and finishing. Unlike the last two clips, this one involved Mobley in an isolation and not as a roll man.

Mobley is getting a standard high post touch. He goes to one dribble and right spin move which fails. Instead of forcing a bad shot or traveling he dips his shoulder and uses excellent court vision to spot Allen along the baseline. Mobley getting low like that was key because Plumlee had his arms up ready to contest a shot and not a pass. As Allen catches the pass he uses his size and athleticism to finish in traffic with a reverse dunk. 

Now let’s take a look at how Mobley and Allen can cause major problems for any team they face. On defense is where their skills can really shine and complement each other.

This play starts out with Hayward curling off a Plumlee screen off the ball. When he turns the corner and Plumlee rolls to the rim, Allen is in drop coverage. Once Allen lunges over to bother Hayward, he flips a pass to the roll man. Plumlee is greeted by Mobley who rotates over to contest his shot. Not only was Plumless met by Mobley but Allen also recovered in time to force Plumlee into a bad turnover. Both Mobley and Allen can serve as defensive anchors on quality defenses but together they’ll make rim finishing abnormally difficult. 

This play is one where it’s best to focus on the process and not the end result. The Lakers run an inverted PnR with the smaller player (Bazemore) screening and LeBron controlling the ball. The Cavs defend with a show and recover or “hard hedge”. Allen is on Jordan in the dunker spot which makes him the first to rotate over to Bazemore. Mobley was roaming at the nail but once Allen leaves Jordan he helps the helper.

The end result of this play is a Westbrook three-pointer but that’s still more times than not the shot the Cavs want the Lakers to take. More than anything this showed that Mobley and Allen were able to make sound help rotations around the basket which is important for their rim protection skills. 

The biggest reason why Mobley and Allen will be a terror for any opponent has to do with Mobley’s most impressive trait as a pro. His ability to switch onto guards is generational. Here he is against All-Star Trae Young in an isolation of a switch.

Mobley mirrors Young’s crosses and uses excellent footwork to stay with Young. This switchability will allow Mobley to force guards into the paint and get off bad shots with Allen waiting as the rim protector. In this play, it’s Markkanan who’s in position for the contest at the rim. Again, it’s not about the result here, but rather the fact that Evan Mobley can give guards problems and force them into the brick wall that is Jarrett Allen at the rim.

Here’s another example of Mobley on the perimeter against an elite offensive guard in Damian Lillard. Lillard gets the switch from Sexton to Mobley and things don’t go as planned. Mobley mirrors Dame this time and stays with him stride for stride as he attacks the basket. Mobley’s length made it tough for Lillard to shoot a deep stepback three so Lillard opted to get downhill.

We can see that Allen gets in position and rotates over to help. That ends up not mattering though as Mobley blocks Lillard’s shot. Even if a guard does get past Mobley, they’ll have just as hard of a time getting a clean shot over Allen. 

Here’s a play where we can see Mobley’s potential to create offense on the perimeter for himself. Garland makes a skip pass to Mobley in the corner off a standard PnR set with Allen as the roll man. Initially, Mobley looked to throw in an entry pass to Allen in the post. He wisely opts to not make that pass because Oubre cheats down to seemingly double Allen. Bridges also gives Mobley some space to work with which he takes advantage of. He gets stuck off his half-hearted spin move but is able to recover with a sweet shot fake and off-balance fadeaway.

As Mobley gets more comfortable as a spot-up shooter and creator off the dribble from the perimeter, the Cavs offense will see a lot more offensive advantages. 

Earlier we looked at some clips of Mobley’s passing meshing with Allen but it can go the other way around as well. This play is a drawn-up ATO (after time out) that’s very effective.

There’s plenty of off-ball movement before the ball is inbounded. Sexton and Mobley cross each other near the baseline. Garland takes advantage of the congestion and frees himself for the ball. Then Cavs flow into a side screen and roll with the Nuggets defense scrambling from the prior movement. Since Jokic is in a drop and is too slow, Gordon rotates over which leaves Mobley open in the dunker spot. Allen delivers a bounce pass and the Nuggets do a good job of converging on Mobley but he’s just too long and agile for that size. 

More Allen to Mobley action here but this one stands out from the rest. It’s a Rubio and Mobley PnR action where Mobley slips out before setting a real screen and the Hornets still end up switching. Instead of looking to get downhill, Rubio finds Allen who basically went from the left low block to the other during the initial screening action. Since Allen is far enough from the basket to where Washington is stretched out, Mobley can continue his roll to the rim with a smaller defender off the switch.

It’s a great setup that utilizes Mobley’s agile movement instincts as a roll man with Allen’s off-ball roaming and lob passing. 

Better late than never. In a high leverage moment against the Raptors, Allen and Mobley both make critical decisions that help them get a big-time basket on this possession.

On the ATO, Rubio takes the high screen. Allen sets a textbook screen as he blocks off VanVleet’s hips which forces him to lose his balance. As Allen gets the feed from Rubio he’s finally able to spot Mobley open in the corner. These short roll passes have been something he’s struggled to make so far but it’s great to see him make it in the clutch. Barnes chose to help over on Allen’s roll which results in a tough closeout and Mobley is able to beat him off the dribble. Birch rotates to meet Mobley which leaves Allen open and Mobley leaves a smooth dump-off pass for Allen to finish.

Allen’s short roll pass to Mobley in the corner can be a deadly cognate of the Cavs offense if he can grow in this area.   

One designed play that should be run on a more frequent basis is this. A double drag screen with Mobley as the popper and Allen as the roller. This example is a bit funky because Ball tries to navigate the two screens before Rubio even takes them. He gets way too overzealous and as a result, an advantage is created. Due to Plumlee’s solid rotation though, Rubio actually slows down his pace after blowing by Ball and patiently waits for Allen to roll off the double drag.

In the end, it’s a monstrous dunk by the athletic Jarrett Allen. As Mobley’s outside shooting develops this can be a wildly effective play for the Cavs because it will give them lots of different ways to create good offense and find an efficient shot. 

The second iteration of the double drag goes how the play normally does. In a double drag, typically the first screener will pop out to the three-point line while the second screener rolls to the basket like a normal PnR play. Here we see just that happen as Mobley pops and Allen rolls.

The Blazers actually play this action fairly well. Dame doesn’t get lost and stays out to not leave Mobley wide open on the wing. Nance Jr shows solid screen navigation by fighting over and Nurkic provides a quality soft hedge. It takes a very good pass from a talented playmaker in Rubio to get a seemingly easy basket for Cleveland.

This kind of play also forces defenders from the opposite side to cheat over a bit which allows the handler to hit a pocket pass to a shooter. That’s just another way this play can be super effective with Allen and Mobley screening in a double-drag set. 

The final play is without a doubt one of the most effective sets the Cavs have run so far this season. Thanks to Evin Gualberto (@evin_gual on Twitter) I found out the set is called Horns Out Miami.

Allen sets a screen around the nail for Mobley and it flows into a dribble handoff with Garland. Mobley slips out of the action and Garland takes a side ball screen from Allen. It appears as if Crowder made the defensive error as he followed Garland instead of keeping up with Mobley. There was also no switch communicated so Paul was supposed to be the only one to continue with Garland.

Anyways, Ayton gets caught in the middle which results in Garland lobbing it up and Mobley throwing it down with a one-handed dunk. It’s a set that aims to get the defense in scramble mode and take advantage of one small error. 

From watching the Cavs film I learned a few important keys that will tell us a lot about the Cavaliers’ future. First, they’re in desperate need of a wing. As it pertains to Mobley and Allen however, it’s about time and patience. There are definitely times where it gets clunky but that’s bound to happen given that Mobley is a rookie whose offensive game is still in the beginning stages of its development. But if you mean to tell me that it can’t work because two seven-footers can’t work in the modern NBA then I beg to differ.

Evan Mobley has the unicorn talent on both ends to not just coexist but thrive next to a traditional big man in Jarrett Allen. We’ve seen how his switchability and mirroring skills against guards can force them into the paint where Allen is waiting to protect the rim. Mobley’s high low passing out of the short roll leads to open looks for Allen in the dunker spot. His potential as a shooter will provide more one-on-one opportunities in the post for Allen as well and give the Cavs a dynamic multi-faceted offense.

This pairing can become a real problem in the not-too-distant future and the Mobley and Allen duo will be the driving force of the Cleveland Cavaliers rebuild. 

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