Saying Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes are outperforming Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green is accurate. That also makes it seem like Cunningham and Green were somehow mistakes. To be clear, none of the top four picks in the 2021 NBA Draft look like misses, which is awesome for the Pistons, Rockets, Cavs and Raptors.
It’s more so that it’s easier to see the potential All-NBA in Mobley and Barnes right now. The obvious reason for that is the way they’re playing, but the slightly less obvious reason is the positions they can play and the way they play them.
The 7-foot Mobley is capable of playing next to a 7 footer, can play center as well, and doesn’t look lost guarding wings on switches. His demeanor — the guy is so unassuming, when I first watched him in college, I thought his brother was the lottery pick — and his polished game are the exception to that of a Marvin Bagley, James Wiseman, Jaxson Hayes, or even Jaren Jackson Jr.
Here’s a hypothetical that may better illustrate what I’m trying to say: If Golden State had Mobley instead of Wiseman, Steve Kerr’s face would be permanently stuck in that stupid “Steph is so good, let me smile incredulously” way. Mobley has the kind of skill set/basketball IQ combination usually reserved for four-year seniors.
It’s progressively gotten harder and harder to find a 7-footer who isn’t a project. Like, oh, you know how to attack a closeout, find a teammate, rotate on defense and shoot? Usually you get “catches lobs” and “set picks,” and the rest is as raw as beef carpaccio.
Mobley isn’t raw, and if I wasn’t morally opposed to well done steaks, that’s how I’d describe his game.
I’m not going to rank Barnes on the raw-to-well-done scale because medium rare is my preferred temp, and I don’t know how that translates. I also think translation — specifically, how Barnes’ game fits into the modern NBA — was the reason why scouts were so scattered on him going into the draft.
His size, length, shooting deficiency and defensive reputation are reminiscent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who went second overall, and the shooting might be the reason scouts were so skeptical. It also was easy for Barnes to disappear at Florida State because coach Leonard Hamilton’s program is good enough that it doesn’t have to revolve around the lottery pick on the roster.
To be fair, if you can’t shoot, you better be Ben fucking Simmons or you’re not going to get the benefit of any doubt. Barnes rarely attempts 3s, but averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block while being tasked to guard Kevin Durant, James Harden and centers through the first 10 games of your career bellows All-NBA potential.
Not convinced? Can I interest you in a coast-to-coast, three-dribble mini-Giannis-type dunk? How about an early Kawhi Leonard comp? Not the one who wore a Raptors jersey a few years ago; the one who made LeBron visibly upset solely by checking into the game. We say, “Yeah, but if he could shoot” with a lot of guys but, yeah, if Scottie Barnes could shoot …
The top of the 2021 NBA draft was that rare instance where team need and player archetype aligned. Houston and Detroit needed perimeter help and the injection of adrenaline guards like Green and Cunningham can provide and fans can get behind.
For Cleveland and Toronto, they got players a lot of teams search for/draft but often don’t pan out. This is the internet, though, there must be a loser.
How about me? I’ll be your huckleberry. Loser writer fails to find loser, ends up the loser. Perfect.