2021 NBA Draft prospect report: Evan Mobley of USC
Evan Mobley was the third-ranked prospect out of the 2020 high school class.
In the first half of what is certain to be his lone season at USC, the seven-foot center has averaged 19.5 points per 40 minutes on 60% effective shooting and compiled a 29.6 PER in 16 appearances, at the time of writing.
He had shown at Rancho Christian the versatility to develop into the sort of scorer who can stress the defense from all over the floor, and that has sort of been the case during his brief stay at USC, though to a lesser extent than the one that is envisioned for him if he does end up developing into the superstar that he’s widely thought to be on his way to become.
The 19-year-old has gotten a larger chunk of his offense out of the post and roaming around the rim for some finishing opportunities but has been able to show his skill level out of the short roll, take his man in isolation out in space and launch some catch-and-shoot jumpers as well.
But for as skilled and capable with the ball as he is on offense, Mobley might be even more special and a perfect fit for this era on the other end.
His physical profile is underdeveloped for someone his height, and it costs some in the more physical areas of the game. Yet he is supremely quick off the floor and has elevated the level of the defense around him to elite status by making a huge impact as a help defender near the rim.
The hope is for Mobley to be just as impactful away from the basket and offer the sort of versatility that is widely coveted in an era when offenses are stressing defenses to their breaking points because of the proliferation of the one-dribble three-pointer in pick-and-roll, but USC has actually mostly deployed him in conventional coverage, which has been somewhat disappointing.
Nonetheless, ESPN currently ranks him second in its top 100.
Mobley is an impactful presence defending near the rim.
He is active helping off the weak side, attentive to his responsibilities stepping up to the front of the rim as the last line of defense and engaged helping from the side when his brother Isaiah is the one responsible for primary rim protection against an action in the middle of the floor.
Mobley is a quick leaper off two feet, doesn’t need to load up to go up, has a nine-foot standing reach to challenge shots effectively via verticality and has proven himself capable of blocking shots with either hand – averaging 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes over his first 16 appearances at USC.
He is prone to biting on a shot fake from time to time, but despite participating at the rim regularly, Mobley has posted a low foul rate – averaging just 1.9 personal fouls per 40 minutes so far.
He has logged 33.6 minutes per game for a team that, at the time of writing, ranks 10th in the country in shooting percentage allowed at the rim and 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Mobley has shown glimpses of very appealing activity in the hidden areas of the game as well, flashing the sort of second effort you don’t often seen from superstar prospects at his age, guarding with his arms up near the rim to discourage shots whenever he is close by, deflecting a few drop-offs and making the occasional preventive rotation that denies the opposing ballhandler space toward driving all the way to the goal.
His nimbleness and mobility suggest he’ll be the sort of rangy center who stretches pick-and-roll coverage far above the foul line in order to blitz pull-up shooters at the three-point line or switches and holds his own against smaller ballhandlers out in space. But that’s not how he’s been deployed in his time in college.
Mobley has most often gone up to the foul line and dropped back. Within that scheme, he has approached the ballhandler in a stance and impressed with his fluidity sliding laterally and backpedalling, proving himself capable of stopping the ball and preventing the ballhandler from turning the corner right away off the pick.
His quickness off the ground has shined in these instances as well, as he’s blocked a few pull-ups in impressive fashion.
When the ballhandler has pressed the issue to get downhill, Mobley has shown he can keep space with north-south types on a straight line from the foul line down and block a shot defending on the ball.
He is prone to losing the roll man here and there but often shows the hustle to try recovering quickly to challenge at the rim.
Mobley is said to have a seven-foot-four wingspan and has indicated he knows how to leverage it by batting away some lobs and deflecting the occasional pocket pass to the roll man.
His average of 1.0 steal per 40 minutes might stand out as a tad disappointing, but the impact of his length can be seen a little clearer on video.
That length combined with his explosive leaping ability make him capable of blocking the occasional catch-and-shoot three-pointer on hard closeouts.
But it’s actually more common to see Mobley get blown by in these instances, as he often sells out to close out and opens the gate for the defense behind him.
His individual defense out in space has also left something to be desired. Given his fluidity and his nimbleness at his height, Mobley is expected to develop into a good switch defender in time. But when he has faced a perimeter-oriented big man or crossmatched into a taller wing in college, Mobley has been caught flat-footed and seemed too spacey to be able to contain dribble penetration.
Mobley has a thin 205-pound frame in the context of his seven-foot height, and his underdevelopment in strength becomes more apparent in the more physical areas of the game.
He puts in the effort to leverage his length into denying easy post entries and guards with his arms up to make it tough to finish over him but generally struggles to hold his ground against more physically developed big men.
He is attentive to his responsibilities boxing out whoever is close by but ends up allowing inside position to tougher competition on occasion.
It hasn’t mattered a ton in college because almost no one has been able to compete with his explosiveness reacting to the ball off the rim, but even so, he’s collected a reasonably unimpressive 17.6% of opponents’ misses when he’s been on the floor.
On the other end, Mobley is elite. He is quick enough to chase his own misses, has a quick second jump to fight for tip-ins or 50-50 balls, and established himself as a constant putback threat, even on tip-dunks with his left hand.
Mobley has averaged 3.7 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes and converted three-quarters of his 16 second chance opportunities into immediate scores so far.
His ball skills are what stand out the most on offense.
He doesn’t grab-and-go as much as he used to at Rancho Christian but will still bring the ball up on occasion and slow transition into an isolation.
Mobley has a rudimentary handle and hasn’t shown a particularly quick first step or a whole lot of speed with the ball. He is also not going to be confused with a jumbo ballhandler who can create for others regularly off the bounce anytime soon.
However, he does have unusual side-to-side fluidity for someone with his height, a knack for taking his man on a straight line, the capability to go left and the nimbleness to weave into a slow but fairly well-coordinated spin move to eat space.
Mobley sometimes struggles to maintain his balance through contact and can’t often power through all the way to the goal but can counter the opponent managing to stop his momentum by being able to score from the in-between area just fine.
Mobley has flashed the ability to absorb contact and rise for a one-dribble pull-up in rhythm on drives off a shot fake but hasn’t yet developed the dexterity to create separation and pull up off multiple dribbles.
What he does best for now is launch floaters, even proving himself capable of getting off good attempts with his left hand, able to create separation off that slow spin move, a hard jump-stop or a shot fake one way to then turnaround the other.
Mobley has nailed 43.9% of 57 two-point shots away from the rim so far.
He is a willing screener who widens his stance and makes an effort to draw contact regularly but generally doesn’t quite disrupt the on-ball defender due to his thin frame. Mobley also hasn’t yet developed advanced techniques such as flipping the screen, slipping the pick, developing a feel for re-screening and laying Gortat screens.
He can play above the rim as a target for lobs sneaking behind the defense and has flashed good hands catching the ball on the move while attacking space on cuts but hasn’t often been able to roll hard down the middle, so it’s unclear how explosive he can be going up for lobs in a crowd.
He has been assisted on fewer than half of his makes at the rim, but when he has found opportunities roaming around near the basket, Mobley has excelled as a finisher. He has averaged 2.2 dunks per 40 minutes and converted 66% of his 44 non-dunk finishes, while earning 7.3 free throws per 40 minutes as an indirect result – showing not just touch, but ambidexterity as well.
For the most part, Mobley has operated out of the pick-and-roll as a scorer from the in-between area and a passer.
He’s been able to unleash floaters off a jump-stop and the occasional midrange jumper out of the pick-and-pop. Mobley has unleashed a three-pointer out of the pick-and-pop once or twice. Given how good he looks on those, the endgame certainly seems that he’ll be launching those fairly regularly in the near future, but for now he seems more comfortable popping to the elbow area.
Mobley hasn’t yet developed particularly remarkable court vision on the move, but he’s shown be a very functional passer at this point of his development, able to execute quick kickouts against the strongside corner/wing defender rotating in to cut off his roll and post-to-post entry feeds when his brother and his defender crowd his path to the goal.
He has assisted on 11.9% of Southern California’s scores when he’s been on the floor, though at a 0.89 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Mobley has gotten a steady dose of touches in the post and has showcased a fairly versatile arsenal of moves.
He is unable to get a deep seal consistently and is pushed further out to the elbow extended area at times due to his lack of strength.
Mobley hasn’t yet developed any power moves operating with his back to the goal, but he’s been able to rely on enough core strength to maintain his balance and use his light feet to spin around post defenders on quick moves.
He has truly excelled on more deliberate moves, though. Mobley has a patient approach, and though he can’t back down many opponents, he’s able to work them well enough to create separation for right-handed hooks and the occasional turnaround fadeaway jumper.
For whatever reason, Mobley doesn’t yet seem to be as comfortable going to his left hand on hooks, even though he’s pretty comfortable going to it off the bounce and at the rim, opting instead for some awkward lean-in jumpers when he’s forced to turn over the defender’s right shoulder.
The endgame for his post series in the pros, at least for the immediate future where his physical profile doesn’t change much, is probably for him to operate more facing the basket.
Mobley doesn’t have a particularly quick first step, but he’s been able to overwhelm slower defenders with his skill and get by them. When they sag off him as a counter, he’s able to launch no-dribble jumpers off a jab-step.
Mobley hasn’t yet developed into a particularly special shot creator for others out of the post, but he’s proven himself a very functional passer out of operating with his back to the basket, able to execute kickouts against late double teams, launch two-handed passes to the opposite wing and spot some cutters.
It’s not yet common to see him handling hard double teams with calm escape dribbles to ignite movement against a numbers advantage, but Mobley has been seen dribbling out of the post to assist shooters sprinting to the ball for a dribble-handoff series.
Mobley doesn’t space out to the three-point line that much and has averaged just 1.6 such attempts per 40 minutes so far this season.
He still figures to end up a real threat to space the floor in the near future, given how projectable his shooting stroke looks.
Mobley catches it on the hop, goes through textbook weight transfer to load his shot, rises with great balance and fully extends himself for a high release, though the speed on his release needs to improve a little more in order for him to be able to launch those long-range attempts more confidently.
The ball hasn’t gone in a ton yet, as he’s hit just a third of his 22 three-point shots, but the touch certainly seems in place, as he’s converted 70.4% of his 98 foul shots.