The Los Angeles Lakers included center Timofey Mozgov in the deal for Brook Lopez, and the seven-footer is back in a position to be productive.
Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson moved D’Angelo Russell and Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets because they’re looking toward the future. Lonzo Ball replaces Russell as their point guard, and the Lakers now have Mozgov’s salary off the books and can use that cap room to try and sign LeBron James next summer. The deal that Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to was nothing short of egregious, and it looked even more foolish after the coaching staff decided to put him on the bench and give more time to the younger players.
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Last summer, Los Angeles gave the 7-1 center $64 million over four years. He played in just 54 games this season. Even when Mozgov suited up, the stints were short. He averaged just 20.4 minutes a night but put up 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent from the field. In the five games Mozgov played more than 30 minutes, those numbers increased to 13.4, 6.6 and 64.4, respectively. It shows us that he can be a reliable contributor when given adequate playing time, but he’s his own worst enemy when it comes to that. Mozgov’s struggled with foul trouble for all of his career, and it continued this year. On average, he fouled 2.5 times a night.
If someone tries to tell you that Mozgov has never amounted to anything, listen to them and then educate them. And then block them on Twitter. All of the evidence we need is in the 2015 Finals — the infamous series where LeBron James took on the Golden State Warriors by himself because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were both injured. Mozgov was the second-best player on the Cavaliers for those six games. Cleveland played him more than they expected and he came through, putting up 14.0 points, 7.5 boards and 1.5 blocks with a true shooting percentage of 63.1 percent. Mozgov even had 28 points in Game 4. Cleveland got blown out, but Mozgov showed up on the NBA’s grandest stage.
Even before his days with the Cavaliers, he had a few outstanding seasons with the Denver Nuggets. He began to garner attention in 2014 after showing double-double potential. Unfortunately, that was the same time we realized that indiscipline when protecting the basket would start to hurt his chances of being someone a team could throw onto the court for 30-plus minutes. He was then traded 35 games into the 2014-15 season. Cleveland thought so highly of him that they gave up two first-round picks with so many stipulations I got exhausted reading them:
CLE sends a pair of 1st-Rd picks to DEN. One of the picks is from OKC, which is top-18 protected in 2015 & top-15 protected afterward. The other pick is from MEM & is conveyed if between 6-14 in 2015 or 2016 & and is top-5 protected in 2017 & 2018 (many thanks to Basketball Reference).
Now, after being traded for the third time, Mozgov looks to start a new life with the Brooklyn Nets. It’s obvious that the Nets liked D’Angelo Russell a lot, and I don’t think the Lakers would’ve done this deal without trading Mozgov or Luol Deng, who also has a ludicrously outrageous contract.
In an age where analytics are becoming more and more prevalent, Mozgov’s value will become more and more diluted. If you watch him play, you’ll notice that he has moments of brilliance and is more versatile than a first glance would make you believe. What’s offsetting the primary numbers are metrics like box plus/minus and value over replacement player. Both of those stats take a player’s value and make it relative to the rest of the league, and they don’t favor Mozgov.
His career BPM is minus-1.4, essentially meaning he’s a below average player and, oddly enough, his offensive BPM (minus-2.1) is what brings that number crashing down to Earth. His VORP, plus-1.1, is prettier to look at and says that Mozgov is, in fact, better than your average player.
What does all of this mean?
It means that no one can form an argument on numbers alone. Yes, they tell a story, but it’s only one side. Going by advanced stats alone is like you telling someone that Jack died in Titanic, and not bringing up the fact that Rose was more than capable of making room on that door.
Since Mozgov isn’t an All-Star caliber player, he needs to be put in specific positions to make himself successful — that’s not a knock. Few players in the NBA can thrive no matter what, and it’s no coincidence that Mozgov’s best showing came when James was alongside him. The system may not have been ideal, but James has the uncanny knack for extracting the most out of his teammates.
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First and foremost, Mozgov is a solid candidate to run pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops. He’s not going to dominate, but he’s got size and can set rugged screens, and his ability to shoot long twos opens up the lane even more. According to Basketball Reference, Mozgov shoots 40.4 percent for his career and twos that are 16 feet or greater. That’s incredible. The sample size isn’t small, either — in his seven seasons, 11 percent of his looks have come from that zone, and that includes 17.4 this past year with the Lakers. For context, Memphis’ Marc Gasol shoots 41.2 percent for his career from that area. Mozgov will be serviceable under those circumstances, and I have a funny feeling that Jeremy Lin is going to make him look better than he actually is. Lin is great at attacking the basket and is also a great decision-maker, and that bodes well for Mozgov.
He’s got soft hands, but they aren’t going to seem that way with guards throwing errant passes every possession. And I also don’t expect Brooklyn to run the offense through him that often. It’ll work from time to time, but the Nets are more concerned about pushing the pace and shooting threes. A steady diet of pick-and-rolls is counterproductive to what they’re trying to do, and such a drastic change to the offense isn’t in the cards for Kenny Atkinson and his core. Mozgov is still going to make an impact in their current system — how big or how little remains to be seen.
Believe it or not, the Nets miss a lot of shots. Most of them come from three-point range, but I’ve watched my fair share of Nets games and have noticed that they also miss a bunch of layups, despite shooting 50.6 percent on twos overall.
Mozgov can stretch the defense, but his offense isn’t perimeter-oriented. Because of that, he can hang out around the basket, clean up the offensive glass and create a bunch of second-chance points throughout the season. He may also throw in a highlight every now and again if he’s trailing on the fastbreak and someone has a shot roll off the rim.
I understand that Mozgov is already on the wrong side of 30 (he’ll be 31 in July, and “the wrong side of 30” is only that for athletes), and that means he won’t get much better for the rest of his career — if at all. What we see is what we’re getting. The Nets got a center who isn’t an elite shot-blocker or rim protector but instead balances that with respectable abilities on offense. Mozgov won’t log extended minutes this season, and that’ll give way to rookie Jarrett Allen. When he does get time, however, an impact will be made. No, it won’t be as big as Brook Lopez’s, but Mozgov isn’t a scrub even though a lot of people talk like he is. Some of that is attributed to the contract he shouldn’t have gotten, but I feel that decision falls on the Lakers’ front office. Not the player. (You can’t tell me you’d turn down $64 million even if you’re skill set doesn’t warrant it.)
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