Knicks Secretly Sign Russian Center Timofey Mozgov


The Knicks signed Russian center Timofey Mozgov to a three-year $9.7 million contract, when the rest of the NBA didn’t even know he was a possibility. Although this has been talked about for a few days, I believe it was finalized today. For the best perspective I’ve read of not just the player, but the signing, here’s Jay Aych’s article on The Painted Area:

Donnie Walsh seemed to pull this deal off totally under the radar. No indication Mozgov was interested in coming over to the NBA this summer. Have to imagine multiple teams would have been hot on Mozgov if they realized he was making himself available this summer.

Figured Timo could still use a year or two of seasoning in Europe. […]

A quality signing since the Knicks badly needed a true big on their roster. Have to wonder how the Nets missed on Timo, not to mention, Jersey gave nearly the same money to journeyman Johan Petro instead. Advantage Knicks.

After Brendan Haywood and Darko, Mozgov (turns 24 on Friday) was probably the best free-agent center candidate on the market this summer considering the rest of the viable centers are in their mid-30s (Shaq, Ben Wallace, Rasho, Big Z).

Compared to the money shelled out to Haywood and Darko, Mozgov’s deal is a relative bargain – a low-risk transaction for the Knicks. Worthwhile gamble on a 7-footer with terrific physical tools and enticing potential.

Mozgov was the best free-agent big in Europe besides Giannis Bourousis and one of the best European free agents overall. Bourousis is more polished offensively, but Mozgov clearly has the athletic advantage. Timo is very mobile and runs the floor very well for a player his size. Think Andris Biedrins or Marcin Gortat.

That seems like an odd comparison to me ‘cuz I view those two guys very differently. Gortat seems more like a traditional highly skilled back-to-the-basket player who uses his strength, while Biedrins is more the thin athletic jumping type, a la Tyson Chandler, who makes most of his plays due to hustle. Nonetheless, back to The Painted Area’s analysis:

Impressive physical package but still figuring out the game. Lacks polish and tends to be reactionary in his approach. His limited feel for the game leads him to take bad angles and gets him out of position, which leads to fouls.

One key question surrounding Mozgov’s development: can he stay on the floor for extended stretches? Like we saw in the 2009 EuroBasket, Mozgov still has issues staying out of foul trouble. He averaged 3 fouls per game in only 13 minutes a game in Euroleague action (2.7 fouls in 18 mins/game in Russian SuperLeague play).

Here was our analysis of Mozgov after his breakout Eurobasket performance last September:

If you can pick anyone who had a coming-out party at Euro ’09, you might have to go with Timo. The 7-0 Mozgov was an imposing interior presence at both ends of the floor. Mozgov is a pretty good athlete for his size and has a nice frame that can handle more weight. Powerful finisher, might have led the tourney in dunks. No real signs of much of a post game, did most of his damage rolling to the rim. But there were a few glimpses of a decent touch on some short jumpers. Attacks the offensive glass. Did a pretty good job defensively protecting the painted area and wasn’t too bad on ball screens. Dealt with constant foul trouble which limited him to 23 mins/game. His potential is enticing, and have to imagine most NBA front offices are keeping close tabs on the 23-year-old. (Timo’s Eurobasket ’09 stats: 11 ppg, 4.5 rpg (2.7 off.), 1.3 bpg, 59%)

The only thing we would tweak about this analysis after watching him play for Khimki extensively this season: his jumper needs work. He’s not really a threat to face-up and currently does most of his damage inside the painted area.

In 16 Euroleague games, Mozgov averaged 6 ppg (50.6%) and 4 rpg in 13 minutes per game. Timo was a bit better in 32 Russian Superleague games–7.5 ppg (56%) & 4.8 rpg (2 off.) in 18 mins/game.

As we mentioned above, Mozgov’s post game is lacking. His footwork on offense is actually not bad. It’s just that his touch needs refining. Not much of a scoring threat outside of five feet. Scores off of rolls, cuts and occasionally off his post moves. Sometimes likes to finish with his left hand.

As mentioned above, very effective as the roll man in pick/roll action. Good hands–can catch the ball on the move and finish in one motion. The ball-handler can throw the ball up at the rim and Timo can go get it. Very dangerous offensive rebounder and adept at put-backs.

Holds up fairly well defending pick/roll action. His mobility is an asset in ball screens and allows him to be an effective help defender a majority of the time. Averaged 1 block per game in both Euroleague and Superleague play. His post defense could use some work.

Devastatingly good finisher on rolls with Team Russia last summer, better than he was with Khimki this season. What I noticed when comparing video of Timo’s play with Team Russia against his play with Khimki, was Russia did a better job of keeping the middle of the floor open than Khimki which spaced out the help defenders. Some of this spacing was due to Coach Blatt’s Princeton sets. Mozgov should have even more room to finish in the NBA thanks to D’Antoni’s spread system and the deeper 3pt. arc.

Knicks fans need to be patient with the Russian big. He has not been playing high-level basketball for very long and can imagine the adjustment to the NBA, not to mention NYC, will be difficult. Assume D’Antoni will give Mozgov 15 mins/game off the bench and hopefully he can provide an interior presence (and rebounding) that D’Antoni’s teams normally lack.

In the end, he sounds more in the Biedrins/Chandler mold. I’m worried D’Antoni won’t give him enough of a chance as Coach tends to prefer giving minutes to “skilled” players rather than those with just raw athleticism (see Jordan Hill and Darko Milicic or Toney Doulgas/Nate Robinson versus Chris Duhon). It’s also a concern I have about Anthony Randolph getting enough playing time too. Hopefully one of ’em will get it together over the next couple years so they can form a nice tandem with Amar’e.