Orlando Magic 2021 NBA Draft Preview: Evan Mobley is a center to build around

The Orlando Magic adore defensive-minded players with long wingspans. It is what president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman has spent the team’s two recent lottery picks on — drafting Jonathan Isaac in 2017 and Mohamed Bamba in 2018.

But it is fair to say that strategy has not exactly paid off as of yet.

Isaac, for all his incredible defensive play while on the court, has not managed to stay healthy. Bamba, meanwhile, has not developed at the rate Magic fans would have hoped — often for reasons out of his control.

Forsaking offensive-minded players and scorers has put the team in a difficult spot. Even in the two seasons the team made the playoffs, it ranked towards the bottom of the league in several key offensive categories.

So the prospect of taking another 7-footer with a giant wingspan who is known primarily for his defense and needs to develop on offense might not sound all that appealing. There is a reason why much of the hype from the Magic fanbase has been around getting Jalen Green instead.

But Evan Mobley out of USC is not a player who should be ignored because of a team’s past experience. The 20-year-old has the potential to be very, very special, and if Mobley somehow ends up sporting a Magic hat come draft night, the future will look very bright indeed.

And as the Magic weigh whether to move up in the draft, and despite having two more young bigs in Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba to develop, Evan Mobley should be firmly in their crosshairs.

Evan Mobley represents the picture of a modern center defensively as someone who lives in the paints and dominates everyone around him. If the Orlando Magic are trying to trade up, Mobley is certainly a key target.

The 7-foot center was a do-everything big at USC averaging 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He added 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 61.5-percent on 2-point shots.

Mobley may not have the offensive range to center an offense. But he does everything else the league asks centers to do. And that has him high on everyone’s draft boards as a potential center a team can build around.

Defensive versatility

It has never been more important for NBA players to be able to defend multiple positions. Guards and big men alike are doing things we have never seen in the league before, and it is vital that teams have players capable of switching onto players smaller or bigger than them.

Mobley has a ton of versatility on that end of the floor.

The incredible length he possesses (7-feet tall with a 7-foot-5 wingspan) means that, despite his lack of strength considering his size, he is a menace in the paint. The team that drafts him will no doubt see a rise in their shot-blocking numbers next season, having averaged 2.9 blocks per gmae in his one-and-done college season.

At times last season, it looked like he was playing against people half his age when in reality he was one of the youngest on the court. Seeing Mobley swat away floaters was a regular sight and he has the size to match up with anyone in the NBA.

But what makes Mobley so special is that he has the speed and athleticism to do more than just protect the rim. He is deceptively quick, and his massive strides get him to where he needs to be on defense. He can switch onto smaller, quicker players and can still have success on defense, such is his unique skill set.

It gives teams a unique option when defending the pick and roll. He can fulfill a number of roles, whether it’s dropping back or switching onto the guard.

He is not the kind of defensive bully like Joel Embiid or Dwight Howard in years gone by, but he can have the same impact given time. Teams love flexibility — just look at the hype around Scottie Barnes this past month. Mobley can instantly make a defense more fluid with his broad skill set.

Two-way potential

The reason why Evan Mobley is so high on draft boards is because of his long-term potential to become a unique two-way talent who contributes hugely on both ends on the floor. Those are the kind of guys that can win championships.

He has shown a ton of promise on offense in addition to that defensive prowess.

The 20-year-old can be just as effective in an offensive pick and roll as defending it, given his comfortability in attacking and finishing at the rim. A lot of centers in the NBA already will not be able to deal with the combination of length and speed that he brings.

What makes him even more special is his potential to shoot the ball too. Just as Joel Embiid has become unstoppable at times because of his ability to stay out on the perimeter and knock down threes, Evan Mobley has also shown some promise shooting the ball from beyond the arc.

He did not take a lot of 3-pointers in college, making 31.4-percent of his 35 attempts, but his shot mechanics and willingness to take them is an enormously encouraging sign for the future. If he can become competent shooting the ball away from the basket, partnered with his ability to use his speed and size to finish lay-ups or dunk the basketball, he is going to be very difficult to stop.

Mobley is the kind of guy who can get buckets straight away. He will do the basics like crash the boards offensively and get second-chance points, while a good playmaking guard will have a lot of fun throwing alley-oops to the young big man.

Throw in his feel and ability to create for others and it is not hard to see why some have Mobley first on their boards.

He has a great handle of the ball and is completely unafraid of taking multiple dribbles to get to his spot if the play necessitates.

The 20-year-old also showed unselfishness all season long, often having the awareness to find the open man or pick out a team-mate cutting to the basket.

Key developments

There is so much to like about Evan Mobley. But like any young big man entering the league, he will require patience.

His offensive game, while showing potential to be extremely versatile, is still confined in some key areas. He does not possess the strength to regularly back down defenders and get straight to the basket, heavily relying on his fadeaway hook shot to score.

In fairness, Mobley has demonstrated he can knock this shot down at a good rate and looks comfortable taking shots slightly further away from the rim. But going up to the next level, where the defenses are better, means he might not have as much joy taking these more difficult shots.

And while there is clear shooting potential, there is still a long way to go before it becomes consistent. Mobley is best when he is close to the basket.

Taking a lot of threes would seem a waste of his talents. But at his current size, he needs to be able to shoot the ball somewhat consistently to score at a good rate.

It seems like the age-old cliche with young, exciting big men entering the league, but he could do with adding muscle. Look at how much it changed Giannis Antetokounmpo’s career, and while that is an extreme case, it would drastically increase Mobley’s effectiveness in the post.

He could use his added strength to get to the rim more often and would fare much better in the battles with Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic that are undoubtedly coming.

Fit with the Magic

The unfortunate thing for the Orlando Magic is that there is virtually no chance he falls to No. 5. If the Houston Rockets take Jalen Green, you can bet the Cleveland Cavaliers take Evan Mobley with the third pick should they remain at that spot.

It would take a trade up into the top three for Orlando to even have a chance of landing Mobley. It is highly likely the team leaves draft night with someone other than the USC big man.

But if it did happen, it would not exactly be the ideal roster fit and would lead to some tough decisions needing to be made.

Wendell Carter cemented himself as the first-choice center last season and showed some good defensive play on a poor team. But he would likely see his minutes reduced to make space for Mobley. Not to mention it would likely mean the team opts not to bring him back when he hits restricted free agency in the offseason.

But the real loser of the pick would be Mohamed Bamba. There are a lot of obvious similarities between the two, and having three players for the center spot would likely see him lose out. It would be hard to fit all three centers into the rotation and Bamba would probably be considered the third option were that to happen.

New head coach Jamahl Mosley could use him at power forward instead, but a forward duo of he and Jonathan Isaac, while defensively sound, would pose its challenges offensively particularly when it comes to shooting the ball.

But all that does not really matter if the Magic are in a position to draft Mobley next week.

He is the type of talent that can be built around for years to come and could provide the team with a clearer direction of what it needs to do to become a contender once again.