NBA draft: Cavaliers select USC’s Evan Mobley at No. 3

Evan Mobley poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Evan Mobley poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected third overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA draft on Thursday in New York.
(Corey Sipkin / Associated Press)

Since he first sprouted to 7 feet, towering expectations followed Evan Mobley wherever he went. As the nation’s top recruit, coaches offered up lofty comparisons to superstars such as Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. At USC, where he carried the Trojans to the Elite Eight, scouts salivated at the uncommon skill set for his size, while critics wondered if he was too timid or too unselfish to ever exceed the arbitrary ceilings they set.

Every step of the way, the spindly 7-footer soared past those limits with his head down, barely paying mind. But when he finally heard the NBA commissioner call his name on Thursday night, the normally reserved Mobley wore his emotions ever so briefly on the sleeve of his bold, seafoam-colored suit.

As the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Mobley third overall in the NBA draft, tying him with O.J. Mayo for the highest Trojan ever selected, USC’s soft-spoken big man cracked a big smile.


“I was in shock,” he said. “Like, I really made it. I’m here.”

For those who caught even a glimpse of his lone season at USC, Mobley’s place as the undisputed top center in this year’s draft should come as little surprise.

While the traditional, plodding big man of the past tiptoes along the brink of extinction, many are willing to wager Mobley represents the second coming of the position, a modern-day big that can create off the dribble, stretch his jump shot to the perimeter, and challenge defenses like a supersized guard. Those skills, his coach at USC says, aren’t anywhere near their ceiling.

“He’ll be a completely different player a few years from now because of how his body develops,” Andy Enfield said.

Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley were the top 3 picks Thursday night during the NBA draft. A look at all 60 selections with analysis.

July 29, 2021

That promise is tantalizing enough to convince some that Mobley could emerge as the best player from this draft class. Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman, who resisted a multitude of offers to trade the No. 3 pick on Thursday, described Mobley as “a transformative talent, whose versatility, athleticism and physical gifts are qualities we covet in a player.”

“Evan Mobley checks each of those boxes,” Altman said.

Those qualities were immediately clear at USC, where he arrived last season as the highest-rated recruit in program history and left as the Pac-12’s player of the year, defensive player of the year and freshman of the year, the first major conference player to claim all three honors since Lakers star Anthony Davis.


He did so even as opposing defenses catered entire game plans to stifle him, often double-teaming him on every post touch. Still, Mobley found ways to dominate, leading the Trojans in scoring (16.4 points per game), rebounds (8.7) and blocked shots (2.8), while anchoring one of the nation’s best defenses.

Ziaire Williams poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Ziaire Williams poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected 10th overall by the New Orleans Pelicans during the NBA draft on Thursday in New York.
(Corey Sipkin / Associated Press)

In Cleveland, he’ll be thrust into a crowded frontcourt next to another talented young center, Jarrett Allen, who could present an awkward fit with a fellow 7-footer. Nonetheless, Mobley set his sights Thursday on lofty goals for next season.

“I’m here to show what I have, hopefully be rookie of the year,” Mobley said.

He could have stiff competition in that category from the two talented guards picked ahead of him Thursday night.

As expected, the Detroit Pistons chose Oklahoma State star guard Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick, giving the long-flailing franchise a new cornerstone to build around.

“Detroit, I’m all the way in!” Cunningham said on the ESPN broadcast, as he donned dark sunglasses synonymous with the city.

The Clippers selected Tennessee wing Keon Johnson, Jason Preston and Brandon Boston in the NBA draft on Thursday.

July 29, 2021

The Houston Rockets, who were at one point linked to Mobley, bet on the explosive potential of guard Jalen Green at No. 2 overall. Green was one of two picks in the top seven to be selected from the G League’s Ignite roster, a major endorsement for the league’s new player development path.

After that, it was Mobley’s moment. The picks that followed would only underscore his value; for the rest of the lottery, there wouldn’t be another 7-footer selected.

Ziaire Williams was the next player chosen from the Southland, as the Pelicans drafted the Sierra Canyon and Stanford wing 10th overall, before trading him to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Josh Christopher, a former star guard from Lakewood Mayfair High, was selected with the 24th overall pick, joining Green in the Rockets’ young backcourt.