One of the most famous scenes in the original “Matrix” movie comes when Neo is first learning how to harness the powers he possesses. He’s dumbfounded when he eventually encounters a young monk who bends metal spoons solely with his mind. Before Neo can even ask how he does it, the monk utters the iconic, sage words:
“Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth … There is no spoon.”
It’s a memorable lesson about how a simple change of perspective can open doors to a new reality and a deeper understanding of the surrounding world.
A similar altering of perception is necessary when evaluating one of the 2021 NBA Draft’s most alluring prospects: Evan Mobley. The 7-foot USC product is expected to be selected with one of the first three picks on July 29, and many of the questions about the 20-year-old revolve around the value and utility of a big man in the modern NBA.
Perimeter players have increasingly dominated the league over the past decade, while decisions like drafting Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic or James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball already look like potential mistakes. With Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs alongside Mobley at the top of most draft boards, NBA front offices could be wary of taking a big man with such glistening perimeter prospects available.
But when it comes to Mobley, we have to change our point of view. Flip the camera. Maybe Mobley isn’t a big man at all. Maybe he’s a perimeter player who happens to be blessed with a long, lithe, explosively athletic frame.
In other words: There is no spoon.
“He’s a 7-foot wing. That’s how I talk about him,” one draft scout told CBS Sports. “Evan Mobley’s thing is that he’s a player who was raised to be a point guard, and he’s 7-feet tall. … You can use him in a lot of ways that the centers of the past five or seven years are pretty rarely put in.”
Indeed, when you look through Mobley’s video, you see a preponderance of guard skills just waiting to be unbridled and set loose upon the basketball world. Those, in addition to traditional big man staples like rim-running, rim protection and finishing ability, make Mobley a potentially franchise-changing talent on both ends of the floor.
First thing’s first — Mobley’s defense will translate immediately to the NBA. He averaged nearly three blocks per game at USC, coming with impeccable timing and instinct, in all variety of manners — on ball, off ball, from behind, through verticality. He swatted jumpers as well as interior attempts, using his leaping ability and 7-4 wingspan to bat away shots at the absolute apex of their arc.
I mean, look at where his hand is. This is not normal:
With the emphasis on rim protection at an all-time high in the NBA, Mobley’s shot-blocking alone might warrant a first-round selection. But what separates him from his peers, and what brings the “7-foot wing” description to life, is his ability to move his feet defensively on the perimeter. NBA teams relentlessly hunt big men in the pick-and-roll when they’re unable to switch onto smaller, quicker players. It will take technical work and physical development for Mobley, but he has the tools to become an elite, switchable defender.
Watch how Mobley moves his feet and keeps his hands up to avoid fouling when switched onto Arizona State guard Alonzo Verge Jr., who very clearly wants to cook Mobley one-on-one. Eventually, after a second attempt from Verge, Mobley gets the block and ignites the break:
If you’re concerned about higher quality competition at the next level, here’s Mobley sticking with potential lottery pick Ziaire Williams in isolation and forcing him into a contested step-back 3-pointer:
Mobley’s versatility extends beyond one-on-one defense. His length, quickness and instincts allow him to make up incredible amounts of ground in a split-second. This proves especially useful when he must quickly transition from patrolling the paint to contesting a perimeter shot — something he’ll need to do a lot of at the next level. In the following clip he has one foot almost in the paint at the time of the pass to protect against penetration, but is still able to recover all the way to the corner for a blocked shot:
“The defensive feel is so insane with him,” the same scout told CBS Sports. “That level of trying to solve the rules of basketball — being like, ‘Will refs call if I [block] somebody’s floater at the very top point?’ That’s always been how he’s processed the game.”
Given all these attributes, Mobley has Defensive Player of the Year potential, which is crazy when you consider that his offensive upside is equally tantalizing.
When it comes to traditional big man skills, Mobley is elite. He averaged 1.414 points per possession around the rim last season at USC, which was good for the 90th percentile in Division I college basketball, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He has incredible touch and footwork around the rim, with his length and athleticism making him an ideal roll man and lob-catcher:
While he only shot 30 percent on 40 3-point attempts as a freshman last season, his confidence, mechanics and footwork suggest that he’ll eventually gain consistency from NBA distance. If so, he becomes even more deadly in pick-and-pop and dribble hand-off situations:
The ability to pick-and-roll as well as pick-and-pop is a rare skill set for a big man — but again, this is not a typical big man we’re talking about. As such, Mobley brings even more to the offensive party, with the ability to create his own offense from perimeter for either midrange jumpers or forays to the paint:
He even has potential as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, particularly from the side:
Mobley has also shown a distinct ability to facilitate for others. He can initiate offense from the middle of the floor, much like Heat center Bam Adebayo. Mobley was particularly adept at high-low passes at USC, usually to his older brother Isaiah for easy buckets:
Plays like this show that Mobley can thrive next to another big, like Anthony Davis has done for the last couple of seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Mobley reads defenses well, and has the touch to throw lobs when the big defender steps up:
With the Houston Rockets owning the No. 2 pick, the idea of Mobley and versatile big man Christian Wood playing together is incredibly intriguing.
“I think when you look at a Mobley, he’s gonna be able to do stuff inside, but also he has the ability to now step out to the 3, run the floor, pick-and-pop, dribble hand-off-pop, create space on the floor,” Joe Abunassar, the founder and president of IMPACT Basketball who has prepared prospects for the draft for nearly 30 years, told CBS Sports. “So I think that if it was a big guy who only scored inside in college, that would be a little bit of a concern. But for a kid like that, I mean, he’s ultra-talented.”
That talent has a chance to take Mobley even further if he can continue to develop as a playmaker. He averaged 2.4 assists per game at USC, and made some impressive passes in traffic. He averaged 1.264 points per possession in the halfcourt including assists last season, which ranked in the 87th percentile, according to Synergy.
One of Mobley’s most advanced attributes is his composure on the court. He rarely rushes or forces the issue when facing multiple defenders, and shows vision that should immediately transfer to the NBA level. Watch here as Mobley uses a wicked crossover to create separation, then finds his brother for a layup when the defender steps up:
He’s also shown the ability to find open 3-point shooters either from the mid-post or from under the basket — a skill that will serve him well in any NBA offense:
And just when you thought there was nothing left in Mobley’s bag, he breaks out his transition game. He runs like a gazelle and finishes above the rim, as he does in this Giannis-esque display of speed, skill and power, racing from basket to basket in four dribbles:
But he can also set up teammates with his ball-handling and passing ability on the break. You don’t often see 7-footers throwing picture-perfect lobs from two steps inside the halfcourt line:
Given his versatility and upside, it’s no surprise that Mobley is reportedly in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Pistons. It’s understandable that front offices might value a perimeter prospect over a big man given recent draft history, but we need to remember that with Mobley, there is no spoon.
“Mobley is closer to a [Nikola] Jokic-level processor, where he’s thinking about the angles and thinking about solutions that he specifically is allowed to have that other people just don’t — just from passing skills and the height and the handles,” a scout told CBS Sports. “So I think that seeing him as a ‘big,’ rather than the possibilities of unlocking him offensively, sort of undersells how much weirdness there is there.”