Kurt Helin: Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
Mobley is putting up good-enough counting stats to win the award — 14.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game — but what separates him from Franz Wagner in Orlando and Scottie Barnes in Toronto is his defense. Mobley is already a near All-Defensive team player as a rookie, averaging 1.8 blocks a game and forming a formidable front line with Jarrett Allen. Despite a recent slump, the Cavaliers remain one of the big surprises of the season and Mobley’s play is a big part of that.
Mobley is not running away with this award, however. Wagner (15.7 points a game and doing a lot more playmaking than expected in Orlando) and Barnes (14.7 points, 8 rebounds and also playing good defense) are in the mix. No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham has played very well of late and could make a push into the conversation by the end of the season, and if Jalen Green made an Anthony Edwards like run in the second half of the season would anyone be surprised?
Dan Feldman: Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
Mobley clearly had special potential entering the NBA. But he’s so far ahead of schedule defensively, where many young players need time to learn recognition. Mobley’s ability to defend inside and out has been essential in making Cleveland’s three-big lineups work (with Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen). Mobley isn’t as polished offensively, but he still contributes with his finishing, ball-handling, passing and shooting — skills that give him a high upside on that end, too.