Isaiah Mobley: Sleeper Deep Dives
Isaiah Mobley had a breakout junior year for the USC Trojans. His defensive acumen, shooting touch, and passing vision should translate to the NBA, and he could be a second-round steal in this draft.
Isaiah Mobley might not have gotten the ending he wanted for his junior season at USC, but he still put together a breakout year that might have been good enough for him to hear his name called in the 2022 NBA Draft. He might not be a potential future superstar like his brother Evan, but there is plenty to like about Isaiah’s well-rounded game.
Isaiah Mobley started in 32 games for USC this season and significantly boosted his statistical averages from his sophomore campaign. He averaged 14.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 3.3 APG, leading the team in all three categories and earning All-Pac-12 First Team honors. Mobley also showed encouraging improvements as a shooter—he hit 35.2% of his three-pointers this season while also tripling his number of attempts from long-range to 3.8 3PA per game. Additionally, he upped his free-throw percentage to 68.2%—a solid sign of his improving touch.
Mobley’s shooting touch and passing ability are well above-average for his size at 6’10” and 235 pounds. His defensive capabilities are also intriguing; he can effectively switch onto perimeter players, and he was one of the best off-ball defenders in college basketball this past season.
The odds are good that Isaiah Mobley will not be drafted in the first round; he might not even end up getting drafted in the second round. However, his versatile game on both ends of the floor makes him an intriguing prospect and one who has a good chance to stick around in the NBA. He might not have the highest ceiling in this draft, but plenty of NBA teams could use a stretch-4 with his passing touch and serious defensive potential. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Passing and Shooting
Isaiah Mobley will probably be drafted on the strength of his defense. However, his offensive capability should not go under the radar. Mobley has an incredibly well-rounded offensive skillset that should allow him to fit into a variety of different contexts at the NBA level.
The place to start with Mobley’s offense is his playmaking capabilities. Mobley is an exceptional passer for his position, and he has one of the best handles of any big man in this class. He keeps the ball low to the ground, and his hesitation dribbles freeze all but the best defenders. When Mobley drives to the rim, he isn’t just a scoring threat—he is liable to hit any open teammate that his opponents are foolish enough to leave open:
Mobley ranked in the 73rd percentile overall on offense this season, per Synergy Sports. However, he was even better when factoring in his passing touch; Mobley ranked in the 83rd percentile in possessions plus assists. He is adept at swinging the ball out to open shooters, and he also has a knack for making interior passes and hitting cutters on their way to the basket:
This particular play didn’t exactly end well for USC, but notice how Mobley gets the attention of every Oregon defender on this play. N’Faly Dante quickly recovered and blocked Kobe Johnson to save this play for the Ducks, but the play up until that point highlighted how dangerous Mobley can be with the ball in his hands.
Mobley will almost certainly not be asked to be the primary offensive engine for an NBA team as he was this past season at USC, but he still provides plenty of value when he does not have the ball in his hands. His most obvious role at the NBA level is as a stretch-4, and Mobley’s increased volume from long-range is certainly encouraging on that front. He ranked in the 76th percentile as a spot-up shooter and in the 77th percentile in transition, per Synergy Sports. Whether those attempts come in the halfcourt or as a trailer in transition, Mobley is a threat from downtown—defenses are unwise to ignore him when he is beyond the arc:
Mobley’s varied offensive skillset gives him a wide variety of avenues to playing time in an NBA rotation. He is not just a big man who can pass and dribble, and he is not just a 6’10” spot-up shooter who doesn’t provide any offensive value when he isn’t shooting the ball. Mobley makes quick and solid decisions on the offensive end, and he will take advantage of whatever opportunity the defense gives him. Sometimes, that opportunity appears as an open passing lane to an unguarded teammate. Sometimes, though, that opportunity shows itself as an invitation to shake his defender with a vicious hesitation move and throw down over an unsuspecting defender before they can rotate into position:
Mobley reads the floor well enough to take whatever the defense gives him, dribbles well enough to get to his spots more often than not, sees the floor well enough to find his teammates when they have a better look than he does, passes well enough to get the ball to his teammates through all but the most tightly covered passing lanes, and is unselfish enough to give the ball up to his teammates when those opportunities present themselves.
Mobley makes good decisions with the ball in his hands, and he punishes teams when they leave him open from three-point range. Simply put, he is someone who can punish a defense in a variety of different ways. His well-rounded offensive skillset will allow him to fit into almost any lineup; even without his defensive prowess, he could find a number of different ways to earn rotation minutes at the NBA level.
Defense: Switching Menace
Isaiah Mobley has a versatile offensive skillset, but his defensive capabilities are the main reason why NBA teams will take a look at him towards the latter portion of the draft. His fluidity as an athlete and great foot speed for his size certainly help him on the offensive end, but they are even more vital to his defensive prowess.
Mobley is a stalwart defender down low, and he was arguably more crucial to USC through calling out plays and rotations as the quarterback of their defense than he was as the primary engine for their offense. His real promise as an NBA defender shines through in his off-ball defense and his ability to switch on the perimeter; he is willing and able to switch onto all but the speediest ball-handlers on the perimeter.
Mobley’s advanced numbers on defense back up the promise he shows on tape; he ranked in the 77th percentile as a defender per Synergy Sports, allowing just 0.755 points per possession on plays where he was the primary defender. He guards out to the three-point line with relative ease, keeps ball-handlers from getting to where they want to go, and swats their shots away when they choose a bad time to challenge him:
Mobley can be a defensive force on the perimeter, but that doesn’t mean that he is helpless when challenged around the basket. He isn’t a shot-blocking savant, but he keeps defenders away from their spots in the low post just as he does on the perimeter. When opponents do try to score over him near the rim, Mobley does an excellent job of staying vertical and challenging shots without fouling:
Mobley is probably not enough of a shot-blocking threat to be a primary rim defender at the NBA level. That isn’t to say that he can’t fulfill the role of small-ball 5 in stretches against opposing benches, though. Furthermore, he is far more valuable defensively when switching on the perimeter than he is down low anyway. Pairing Mobley with a shot-blocking center unlocks him and allows him to do what he does best—roam the perimeter, switch onto anyone foolish enough to challenge him, and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Isaiah Mobley and the Trojans started the season on a hot streak. However, both Mobley and USC ended the season on a cold spell; the team lost four of their last five games, and Mobley struggled with his shot during the last two months of the season. After shooting just under 40% from deep to start the season (33-of-83 from November through January), Mobley went just 10-of-39 (25.6%) in February and March. While he did dish out eight assists and played excellent defense, Mobley also struggled to score in USC’s biggest game of the season, shooting 3-of-11 from the floor in their NCAA Tournament loss to Miami in the first round.
That rough close to the season might lead some evaluators to lower their opinions of Mobley. However, his eight assists in that game against Miami actually makes the point about Mobley’s strengths stronger than any highlight-reel performance could—if you look in the right places. Even if he struggles to score when defenses key in on him, Mobley positively impacts the game in so many other ways.
If Mobley’s shot goes cold? He can easily switch over to playmaking mode. If he’s getting bullied by bulkier players on defense? Just have him roam around the perimeter and wreak havoc instead of stationing him down low. If opposing defenses are sagging off him and daring him to shoot? He can just drive right past them and either dish out a dime to an eagerly waiting teammate or simply take it to the rim himself.
Isaiah Mobley will probably never be a superstar. He might not even hear his name called on Draft Night. However, he has nearly every quality that you could hope for in a role-playing big man: passing vision, shooting touch, a solid handle, and exceptional defense both on and off the ball. Every NBA team could use a player like that in their rotation. Hopefully, one of those teams eschews a home run swing with one of their draft picks and instead opts to go with Mobley and his proven ability to fill whatever role is needed for his team and contribute on both ends of the floor.