LeBron James is gone, as is Kyrie Irving, so the glory days of the Cleveland Cavaliers are in their rearview mirror.
But maybe the future is looking a little brighter with rookie Evan Mobley in the mix. Mobley, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft from Southern California, had a big game in Cleveland’s home win over Atlanta on Saturday night. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Mobley is going to face another big moment when Cleveland faces the Nuggets in Denver on Monday night to start an eight-day, five-game road trip.
“Evan is going to be a guy who can get a double-double every night,” teammate Kevin Love said. “He’s got a huge future, and he’s going to make a number of all-defensive teams in his career.”
The Cavaliers had six players score in double figures against the Hawks, but Mobley’s performance stood out. Now he will go against the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic, who looks like he hasn’t missed a beat from last season.
Jokic had 27 points and 13 rebounds in Denver’s season-opening win, and then put up 32 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists in beating San Antonio on Friday night.
Jokic has a treasure chest of moves he uses on opponents despite not being the quickest guy on the court, a trait that makes him more dangerous.
“I really think (it’s) because I’m slow,” he said of his ability to score in different ways. “That’s the pace that fits me, and I’m comfortable in that pace.
“You can see how the league is going, everybody is so athletic, so fast. They can jump, they can go by a guy.”
The Nuggets have started 2-0 riding Jokic’s play and a strong defense. They’ve held both of their opponents under 100 points, and most notable was allowing Phoenix to score just 40 points in the second half of the first game.
Denver forced San Antonio into 20 turnovers, which offset its own 21 giveaways. But a theme is emerging with the Nuggets’ defense, and it starts with buckling down from the start.
“We have to make sure we get back, and then once we are back, I think it’s really important. Can we sit down and guard? Can we contain?” Denver coach Michael Malone said.
The defense is a collective effort, and it helps having a healthy Aaron Gordon, who can guard multiple positions. Guard Facundo Campazzo has also shown his defensive skills and willingness to do whatever is needed. He took a charge from Spurs center Drew Eubanks that helped turn the momentum in the first quarter.
Cleveland will have to deal with that defense, but it seems to have an emerging star in Mobley, and his coach is determined to take advantage of his skills.
“He’s got that straight face, but his skill set is diverse and versatile,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Evan has earned our trust because of how quickly he’s picked things up.”