NBA fans were treated to a show Friday night between the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers — and the league’s most successful rookies so far in the season’s infancy.
Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes have stood out early from the pack, presenting old-soul know-how on the court— in spite of a near-universal expectation that both of these prospects would exhibit some rawness on the offensive end. We’ve witnessed anything but rawness, as both these rookies show a feel for the game so contagious that their teams are already demonstrating an obvious trust in their play that warrants late-game minutes in a close matchup.
The strengths that make these players the ones to watch from their draft class were on full display on Friday. Sharing the court with a fellow centre in Jarrett Allen, Mobley has demonstrated a positional versatility held by few in the NBA. The former USC Trojan big man worked his quick feet on both ends of the floor— continuously swallowing up driving ball handlers on their way to the hoop and slipping from his own scrambling defenders for easy lob catches from the Cavaliers' dynamic backcourt.
Much like Mobley, Barnes was sold to viewers on the merit of his defence, but has shown offensive advancement that changes the ceiling of his team.
The rookies went at each other throughout the game, seemingly (and unsuccessfully) testing their finishing abilities over their ridiculous lengths with push and hook shots. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff noted the two-way pride that makes both players unique, especially in an environment that rewards the flashiest offensive production.
“You watch a lot of the AAU stuff and a lot of that comes from who wants to score the ball," Bickerstaff said. "That’s how you get your notoriety, your Twitter followers up and all that stuff that’s become more and more important. (It's) offence — and it always has been.”
To witness a couple of rookies exerting the same energy of their defensive effort is likely what lends to all the talk regarding their third-year "aura" as such mature youths on the court. Much of the rookie blunders we witness are due to “welcome to the NBA" moments where established stars expose the lack of defensive effort on the part of rookies, working them into a series of possessions characterized by missed rotations and blow bys.
I, somehow, don’t see that happening to either player here anytime soon.
Interestingly, the Cavaliers and Raptors present a stylistic contrast between one another regarding their front courts. Toronto chose agility and versatility, while Cleveland chose size and more size.
Aside from the frustrating final minutes, there’s a common emerging theme whenever the Raptors face opposing front court size as they have with the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers already— and that theme is that Barnes is wholly unfazed. When I asked how he’s been managing to successfully stand his ground and grab boards on a nightly basis, Barnes noted Toronto’s “strength” in that regard, more or less conveying he hadn’t even noticed any size discrepancy out there at all.
And it's been evident out there in his second jump to catch and re-attempt any shot around the basket he’s ever missed yet.
If there’s any information to yield from a game where we witnessed a banked Jarrett Allen three-pointer, it’s that the lack of a seven-footer in the Raptors’ main rotation has yet to be an obstacle for the team.
It seems that height is not the only measurement regarding size on the court, and the Raptors have been showing the value in sheer wingspan length and muscle as equally important when defending.
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