Early returns from the 2021 NBA Draft class suggest that it has a chance to be one of the best that the league has ever seen. In order to stand out in such a crowd, you have to be nothing short of special.
Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley is special, earning him the distinction of Sporting News' Rookie of the Year, as voted upon by over a dozen members of our Global NBA staff at the end of the regular season.
Selected third overall in 2021, Mobley quickly made his presence felt in Cleveland, doing his part to lead the franchise to a 44-38 record with averages of 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
MORE: The MVP case for Nikola Jokic without any advanced stats: Why he is SN's NBA Player of the Year
Prior to Mobley, only seven rookies in the NBA's 75-year history have averaged 15 or more points, eight or more rebounds, two or more assists and more than 1.5 blocks per game.
All but two were named the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
Whether or not Mobley earns the NBA's honor remains to be seen, but if SN's vote is any indicator, it will be a tight battle between him and Raptors standout rookie Scottie Barnes.
For full voting transparency, Barnes earned seven first-place votes to Mobley's six, but Mobley edged Barnes by two total points in the final tally. The reason? Barnes, who finished second in SN's vote, earned one third-place vote while no voter placed Mobley lower than second.
That proved to be the difference between a tie and Mobley winning outright.
As a voter that placed Barnes first, there really isn't a wrong answer, but here's why Mobley is a worthy choice for Rookie of the Year.
When Cleveland selected Mobley third overall, many thought it could spell the end of Jarrett Allen's time with the franchise. When the Cavs re-signed Allen in free agency, questions began to loom around the complicated fit between two traditional big m steph curry jersey tee en in the modern-day game.
It didn't take much time for Mobley to show that he was far from a traditional big man.
In his NBA debut, the 7-foot Mobley started in a frontcourt alongside 6-foot-11 Allen and fellow 7-footer Lauri Markannen. The Cavs ironically came up short, but Mobley finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and six assists, proving that this new-age twist on a traditional approach just might work.
Mobley's 2.5 assists per game might not jump off the page, but his playmaking will.
Mobley's ability to find his fellow bigs from the post or the break has been the key to Cleveland's abili Andrew Wiggins ty to break away from the norm, which, in turn, has led to team success.
You really don't see 7-footers do this too often.
Blend Mobley's willingness as a passer with his instincts as a scorer and you have the modern-day big man that does things we've considered uncommon for a 7-footer.
What Mobley does have in common with some 7-footers is his ability to rebound and protect the rim.
In addition to his 8.3 rebounds, which led the entire rookie class, Mobley's 1.7 blocks per game rank first among all rookies and sixth among all players in the league — only Jaren Jackson Jr., Robert Williams NBA Baby Clothing III, Rudy Gobert, Mitchell Robinson and Jakob Poeltl averaged more.
That's quite the company for a 20-year-old.
That said, there is more to being a solid rim protector than blocking shots and there is more to interior defense than rim protection.
Mobley's got that covered, too.
Mobley's 849 contested shots over 69 games rank fourth in the league behind Gobert (862), Nikola Jokic (901) stephen curry old school jersey and Poeltl (964). Again, elite company for a rookie that's still learning the NBA game.
As a defensive difference-maker in Year 1, just imagine how much of a catalyst Mobley will be in a few years' time.
More than anything, the biggest takeaway from Mobley's season should be his impact on winning.
The last time the Cavaliers had a winning season that did not include LeBron James was in 1998, three years before Mobley was born. This season, Cleveland finished six games above .500 but was even better (40-29) in the 69 games that Mobley suited up.
Without him? The Cavs were 4-9 (.308), though it is worth noting that Mobley and Allen were sidelined at the same time toward the season's end.
While some rookies found themselves steph curry mvp shirt in situations where wins were at a premium, Mobley is in the rare air of a top-five pick to play meaningful posts NBA Eastern Conference Champs eason games.
For a franchise like Cleveland, which is looking to rebuild for sustained success, Mobley is the piece that has accelerated the franchise's progress, standing out in a crowd of standouts in the process.
It's what earned him SN's Rookie of the Year.