Via AllinOne Sports
The Lakers’ first signing of free agency was one that not many saw coming: inking former Cleveland Cavaliers’ center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 contract. After rumors that the team was planning to go hard after All-Star caliber big men such as Al Horford and Hassan Whiteside, the news of Mozgov’s signing was incredibly underwhelming. Mozgov is a 29-year-old center who has never been a high caliber starting center in the NBA, yet the Lakers were willing to give him $16 million per year. Obviously, the salary cap rising has caused market values for free agents to skyrocket, but the logic behind giving Mozgov such a large contract is seriously questionable. Players who have been far more effective throughout their careers such as Ian Mahinmi or Bismack Biyombo are unlikely to sign deals larger than what Mozgov received. This deal will not only hinder the Lakers’ performance on the court, but also the team’s ability to build a competitive roster over the coming years when key free agents such as Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, and others hit the market.
After averaging 9.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with 80 starts in 2014-2015 for the Denver Nuggets and the Cavs, Mozgov was largely in and out of the rotation this season. He only started 48 of his 76 games played, averaging 6.3 points on 4.4 rebounds per game. Mozgov is a massive center who is not explosive offensively. Most of his points are scored cleaning up on the glass, and to a lesser extent, in the pick and roll. Perhaps the most positive indicator behind Mozgov’s past offensive performance is his 113 and 112 offensive ratings over the past two seasons (both the best in his career). When just taking into account his time with the Cavs, Mozgov put up a stellar 117 offensive rating in 2014-2015, suggesting that somehow that he does fit in an offense that relies on ball movement. His time with the Cavs who run an offense similar to what Luke Walton will likely install with the Lakers appears to be the key reason behind the team bringing in the big Russian. Last season when Mozgov averaged 25 minutes per night for the Cavs, Cleveland was 10.9 points better per game with him on the floor versus when he was on the bench. This number dipped significantly this past season to an overall rating of -7.9, but the way Mozgov was utilized last season with the Cavs is likely similar to what Luke Walton has in mind for his new center.
Mozgov is likely imagined as a player similar to Andrew Bogut offensively where his role centers on making the clever pass, rolling to the basket in the pick and roll, and cleaning up offensive boards. Unfortunately, Mozgov’s career assist percentage is almost eight points lower than Bogut’s. In terms of offensive rebounding percentage, both players are below average at about 10%, but with Mozgov’s weakness moving the ball, this is an area that needs to be stronger in order for him to be effective in Walton’s offensive schemes. Lastly, Mozgov had the lowest finishing percentage between 0-3 feet from the rim this season out of a group that includes Bogut and Mahinmi. Mozgov appears to be a very poor fit offensively for the Lakers, and that is extremely worrying for a player that will likely be the starting center in the first game of the season.
Defensively, Mozgov does not look much better. The Russian has a career defensive rating of 105 points per 100 possessions, significantly inferior to Mahinmi and Bogut’s career marks. Mozgov has averaged a poor 0.9 blocks per game over the course of his career, and he has had more than two defensive win shares only once in his career. Mozgov is not much of a rim protector and he is infamous for being heavy footed, limiting his effectiveness when guarding the pick and roll. In fact, Roy Hibbert was a far better defender prior to last season, and everyone knows how much he imploded on that end of the floor (well both ends but defensively in particular) when playing with guards who have a hard time stopping players from getting into the lane. Hibbert’s ineffectiveness this season is a harbinger of what will likely happen to Mozgov when he will no longer have effective defenders on the wings that can help mask his ineffectiveness protecting the rim.
In terms of rebounding, the picture does not get a whole lot better for Mozgov. His total rebounding percentage last season was 14.4% last season and 16.1% the year before. Both of these marks are well below average, especially for a 7’1” center who is almost always stationed around the rim. Luckily, Mozgov will likely be spending a lot of time on the floor alongside rebounding machine Julius Randle, but his weakness in this area is still concerning for a player that will surely be in the top three highest earners on the team this year.
Analyzing the numbers and his strengths and weaknesses, his fit in LA is rather confounding. His offensive game is severely limited and while this may be a good thing for a Lakers’ team that is filled with high usage players, Mozgov is no better at moving the ball. Defensively, the Russian is a borderline liability who does not protect the rim and has problems defending the pick and roll—the most common offensive attack in today’s game. And in terms of rebounding, Mozgov is also below average. In general, Mozgov is a below average player that is getting paid to be one that is above average. The Lakers could have signed either Joakim Noah or Ian Mahinmi for about the same cost and both would have been far more conducive to the system Walton will likely employ. Plus, Noah and Mahinmi are two of the best defensive centers in the game, providing the Lakers with a defensive anchor that has sorely been lacking over the past few seasons. Instead, the Lakers signed Mozgov who will be coming to L.A. with the pressure to live up to his pricey contract on a young team that will not be doing him any favors. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.