Timofey Mozgov: The Unlikely Hero of the Cleveland Cavaliers

timofey-mozgov-cleveland-heroWhen Timofey Mozgov came over to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Denver Nuggets, he was merely looked at as a good role player. In fact, the deal was heavily scrutinized because Cleveland gave up two first-round picks to obtain the 7’1″ big man. Nevertheless, a desperate Cavs team that was hovering around .500 in January made the deal in hopes of getting another piece to their championship contender.

Well, up to this point, Mozgov has been more than worth the deal by serving as the reliable, rim-protecting big man that Cleveland needed from the beginning. Paint protection is the key here because nobody on the Cavs roster fits the mold of a shot-blocking big man who can force tough shots inside. And before Mozgov came over from Denver, Cleveland was giving up 105.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranked eighth-worst in the league.

Mozgov may not be leading the league in blocks, but he is averaging 1.2 BPG and altering plenty of other shots. His inside defensive contributions certainly haven’t gone unnoticed either, especially by head coach David Blatt.

“Bringing Timo in was something we were looking at as early as this summer,” said Blatt, who first met Mozgov as coach of the Russian national team. “Because of my knowledge and experience with him, I knew he’d be a good fit for us — his pick-and-cut capability, size and ability to protect the rim.”

timofey-mozgov-cleveland-hero-1One look at the stats will show how much Cleveland has changed on the defensive end of the floor. This team is allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, which is over four points better than before the Russian big man. Furthermore, opposing teams are shooting just 48% in the paint against Mozgov.

Timofey has a simple explanation for his success in this department: “It’s real simple – as the big guy, you’re supposed to protect the rim.”

Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue had a little more analysis on the subject, citing how their defensive scheme is much better. “We’ve changed our defense since Timo got here,” said Tyronn Lue. “We now scheme around always having a big man near the basket. His weakside awareness has really surprised me. He’s so good at tagging cutters as they come through and reading pindowns and screen. He’s got an incredible basketball IQ.”

Lue added that the team was always looking to keep their center in the paint, rather than getting out on pick-and-rolls. And Mozgov made this transition much easier.

But the 7-footer isn’t just good at disrupting shots inside because Mozgov has also improved this team on offense, despite not being a great outside shooter and averaging a modest 10.6 PPG. “They call me a good roller, but I don’t know, I just do what I do,” he explained. “I don’t do anything special. You set a good screen, you’ll be open.”

Whatever Mozgov is doing, it’s helped his team out a lot. The Cavs are averaging 105.5 points per 100 possessions without Mozgov on the court, and 111.5 points when he is in the game. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s shooting 58.7% as a member of the Cavaliers.

Now, with Cleveland having wrapped up the Eastern Conference’s second seed, the challenge for Mozgov will be entering his second-career playoff run. The first one with Denver didn’t last long, but the Cavaliers are expected to go much deeper, thanks to a trio of stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

And while Mozgov certainly won’t be mentioned in the same breath as these three, he, along with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, is definitely a very important addition who’ll help the Cavs immensely in the 2015 postseason.

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