USC's Evan Mobley Declares for 2021 NBA Draft; Projected Top 10 Pick

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2021

Southern California forward Evan Mobley dribbles during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona State Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. USC won 89-71. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

USC star Evan Mobley has declared for the 2021 NBA draft.

The 19-year-old is widely considered to be one of the top talents in this year's draft class, so the news comes as little surprise.

Heading into his freshman year, Mobley sat third in 247Sports' composite rankings for 2020 behind Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green. He lived up to the hype in his brief time with the Trojans.

In 33 appearances for the team, he averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. While not an efficient shooter, he flashed an ability to stretch the floor, going 12-of-40 on three-pointers.

Cunningham, who played a starring role for Oklahoma State, has long been the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in 2021. However, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman reported Feb. 23 that "some scouts also see [Mobley] as another No. 1 overall talent."

In his most recent big board, Wasserman listed the Trojans big man as the third-best player overall:

"For the first time all season, opponents have been able to keep Evan Mobley relatively quiet. He's averaging 11.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 0.7 blocks over USC's last three games (1-2 record). 

"It won't affect his overall draft stock, given how consistent he'd previously been with a skill set and defensive versatility tailor-made for today's NBA. At 7'0", Mobley possesses special fluidity and coordination handling the ball in the open floor or separating into a layup or runner off a face-up move in the half court. His jump shot looks clean and projectable as well, making it easy to buy Mobley as a future pick-and-pop or spot-up threat."

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Even casual basketball fans can recognize the shift in how the center position is viewed in the NBA. Teams no longer need an elite center to be a title contender, which in turn doesn't always make it a good idea to invest big resources—be that via trade, free agency or the draft—in a player who mostly operates at the 5.

That Mobley is rated so highly speaks to how he fits the modern mold of a center.

USC earned a 76-68 victory over California on Jan. 23. The Murrieta, California, native played a starring role and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. The game was a great encapsulation of his skill set.

General managers covet on-court "unicorns," big men who can operate as a playmaker, score at all three levels, protect the rim and seamlessly switch to different defensive duties.

That's the exact kind of player Mobley can be in the NBA.