Timofey Mozgov: The good, the bad and the ugly

Dec 14, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Timofey Mozgov has a new home with the Brooklyn Nets after being acquired in a pre-draft trade. Now it’s time to understand the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with the veteran Russian center.

After the Brooklyn Nets both welcomed center Timofey Mozgov and guard D’Angelo Russell to their family on Monday, the page turns toward a free agent frenzy for general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson.

In a trade that was made official on draft night, the Nets sent franchise center Brook Lopez to the Los Angeles Lakers along with the draft rights to Kyle Kuzma for Mozgov and Russell.

In what seemed to be quite a tall task for president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, the new Laker-executive pulled off a trade, shedding what was considered a “dreadful” contract in Mozgov.

But, there’s much to look forward to if you’re a Nets fan. Not only does the 7’1″ Mozgov come with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but some familiarity with Kenny Atkinson when he served as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks.

Now, after the two newly acquired players spoke Monday in front of the New York media about their new home in Brooklyn, it’s time to break down the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 30 year-old center from Russia.

Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Good

Timofey Mozgov, who has some familiarity with head coach Kenny Atkinson during his days as a young prospect with the New York Knicks, is excited to be in a new environment with a young and hungry roster.

Mozgov, despite turning 30, is still a big body at 7’1″ who makes his force known in the paint. He played quite well running the two-man game with newly acquired guard D’Angelo Russell back in Los Angeles, and Atkinson plans on using the big-man in similar situations as well.

Another bright spot with Mozgov is his willingness to develop under Atkinson, making his game more versatile in the Nets’ motion, pace-and-space offense.

“Kenny Atkinson has experience turning big men into 3-point shooters. The Nets coach pushed for Brook Lopez to add the long ball to his game last season and was part of a staff in Atlanta that developed Al Horford‘s 3-point shooting.

“Atkinson said that doesn’t mean Mozgov will follow in the same mold, as he sees the 7-foot-1 center as more of an inside presence, with a career line of 7.4 points and 4.9 boards.

“‘We can expect Timmy to be a little bit closer to the basket,’ Atkinson said. ‘We’ll put him in that dunker position behind the basket. He’s really good there. He’s good at the elbows. He’s got a nice jumper.'”

via BrooklynNets.com

One of the intriguing things about Mozgov’s game is his willingness, when motivated, to run the floor and slash to the rim on fast breaks. In a November game against the Brooklyn Nets, Mozgov was often right alongside ball-handlers D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, setting high perimeter screens and rolling to the rim.

One underrated component of Mozgov’s game is his ability to knock down elbow jumpers. He has a quick knack to find open spots on the floor and make room for his playmakers to generate on the wings while camping out on the baseline.

Mozgov does a good job stretching parts of the defense out, and, if he develops a consistent 15-17 foot jump shot, could be a valuable cog in the Nets’ offense.

Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Bad

While Timofey Mozgov was signed to fill a need with the Los Angeles Lakers at the time at center, he was only serviceable at best over the course of the 2016-17 season.

In his sixth season in the league, Mozgov averaged 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in 54 games for the Lakers. But only playing 20 minutes per game on a young, inexperienced roster is a bit concerning.

Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Golliver pointed out concerns about Mozgov’s style of play and fit with Laker personnel the day he agreed to the deal, just a few hours into 2016 NBA free agency.

“The initial reaction from many observers will be that the Lakers went too far here in both dollars and years. That’s true, but the bigger concern is Mozgov’s fit with L.A.’s young core. The slow, physical Mozgov found his greatest success in Cleveland when the tempo slowed way down during the 2015 playoffs. In a half-court game, Mozgov was free to play off of LeBron James as a cutter and to use his size to finish in pick-and-roll scenarios.”

Golliver makes an excellent point about his success in Cleveland, mainly attributing to their slower style of play, and Mozgov’s ability to finish in pick-and-rolls with his large frame.

Golliver continues by expanding on Mozgov’s defensive deficiencies just as the deal was agreed to, stating the “upgrade” over former Lakers center Roy Hibbert isn’t really much of an upgrade at all.

“L.A. is left hoping (praying?) that Mozgov can bounce back from a rocky 2015-16 season, as he ranked 75th out of 76 centers in Real Plus-Minus and posted a below-average 14.6 Player Efficiency Rating following offseason knee surgery. Even at full health, though, Mozgov will struggle to cover for his teammates’ many defensive deficiencies and he’ll need to completely adjust his expectations after going from a contender to one of the league’s worst teams.”

So, where’s the hope with the Nets? Look no further than Brook Lopez’s expanded game under development-focused head coach Kenny Atkinson.

With a new offense consisting mainly of perimeter motion and pace-and-space with the Nets, Mozgov will have to rely on trailing some plays to knock down deep two-pointers.

Brook Lopez found much success with that last year adjusting to Atkinson’s offense, making 134 three-point field goals after only making two the previous year.

Sure, there may be some opportunities for Mozgov to expand his game, but the overall pace of the Nets’ offense may make it hard to keep Mozgov on the floor.

Timofey Mozgov

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Ugly

It’s pretty obvious. The most horrifying thing about acquiring Timofey Mozgov is his contract. Nearly hours after free agency began on July 1 back in 2016, Lakers general manager at the time Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal.

What were they thinking? Who knows. Was Kupchak swinging blindly for the fences? Probably.

Mozgov was used as a “salary dump” in the deal prior to the 2017 NBA Draft. It was the main topic of conversation with many teams around the league, understanding what assets a team can “pry” away for the Lakers in exchange for taking on the remaining three years of Mozgov’s deal.

Over the course of the next three seasons, Timofey Mozgov will be owed $15.3 million, $16 million and $16.7 million, respectively. The Nets will do whatever it takes to get the most out of that deal, and now have a contract they have to hold on to.

The only bright spot? Perhaps a $16.7 million expiring deal during the 2019-20 season that many teams look for around the trading deadline.

For now, the Nets have to fit Mozgov into their style of play, make him feel welcome in Brooklyn, and hope his 2015-16 championship experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers rubs off on the young core in Brooklyn.

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