NBA Saturday: Mozgov Adjusting Just Fine With Cavaliers

Basketball Insiders caught up with Timofey Mozgov to see how he is adjusting to his new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Jesse Blancarte profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Entering this season, most NBA analysts agreed that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest weakness would be their interior defense. Anderson Varejao is a good all-around player, but has only averaged more than one block per game once in his career and has never been much of a rim protector. The same is true for Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

The Cavaliers have been inconsistent this season for reasons that go well beyond interior defense and the lack of an effective rim protector. However, the issue became an even bigger concern when Varejao tore his Achilles tendon on December 23 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. To shore up the frontcourt, on January 8 Cavaliers general manager David Griffin traded away two protected first-round picks to the Denver Nuggets for center Timofey Mozgov.

Mozgov is 7’1, has four years of NBA experience, and is a clear upgrade at center for the Cavaliers. The price for Mozgov was steep, but the Cavaliers made an aggressive move to address one of their biggest weaknesses.

Mozgov had played in four games with Cleveland entering Friday night’s matchup against the Clippers. Basketball Insiders caught up with Mozgov to get his thoughts on the trade from Denver and how things are going so far in his short time with the Cavaliers.

“Doing good,” Mozgov told Basketball Insiders. “Guys, when I come they help me so much… whenever I ask, they help me, so it’s great.”

Through five games, Mozgov is averaging 8.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 24.9 minutes per game. The Cavaliers have gone 2-3 in those five games, but have been missing key players like LeBron James and Kevin Love because of injuries.

When asked if he was happy to be traded from a struggling Denver team to a more competitive Cleveland team, Mozgov appeared to have mixed feelings.

“It’s hard to say right now,” said Mozgov. “I don’t want to [lie], but I was kind of happy in Denver, I got a lot of time playing. This is all I need. Now it’s a new story, a new page, a new part of my life. It’s another team. I’m happy to be here playing [with] guys like Kyrie, LeBron, and Kevin Love. I’m just happy and most importantly, I [get to] keep playing.”

Before being traded to the Cavaliers, Mozgov was averaging 8.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 25.6 minutes of playing time with the Nuggets. Those averages are very similar to the numbers that Mozgov has put up in his five games with the Cavaliers. When asked whether joining the Cavaliers offered him a new opportunity to take on a bigger role, Mozgov focused his attention to the defensive side of the court.

“It’s hard to say. I’m [not here to score] 40 points,” Mozgov said. “It’s just four games so far, so it’s hard to say right now.

“On my own, I want to be a better defensive player every day. Just a better defensive player, rebounder, of course, help the guys to do the best they can, help them.”

There had been rumors linking Mozgov to the Cavaliers for some time prior to the trade, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when the deal became official. Still, for many players being included in trade rumors doesn’t remove the jarring effect that can arise once a deal becomes official. However, for Mozgov, this wasn’t too big of an issue.

“I was transferred from New York to Denver too, so it’s not a new experience for me,” Mozgov said. “I was prepared. I know they can do it any day, any time just like that. So that’s why I was not really surprised. Even before the season I try to prepare for anything to happen during the season. You can play a lot, you can sit on the bench a lot. You just have to be ready for everything.”

Anytime LeBron James is your teammate, you have to get used to a lot of media attention and scrutiny, which can be a difficult adjustment for some players. For Mozgov, he doesn’t seem to mind being under the collective NBA’s microscope.

“Even if you win, you’re going to feel pressure,” Mozgov said. “I’ve been on teams under the press before so it’s nothing new. You just to do your job. Every time you’re on the court, do your job. Simple.”

Disappointing Clippers Debut for Austin Rivers

Last night, Austin Rivers made history in his debut with the Los Angeles Clippers by becoming the first NBA player to play in a game where his father was the head coach. Rivers was acquired by the Clippers earlier this week in a three-team deal that sent Chis Douglas-Roberts, Shavlik Randolph (from Phoenix) and a second round draft pick to the Boston Celtics, and Reggie Bullock to the Phoenix Suns.

Clippers president and head coach Doc Rivers made the deal to acquire his son to help breathe new life into the Clippers second-unit, which has been ineffective through the first few months of the season.

Rivers, the former tenth pick in the 2012 NBA draft, went 0-for-4 from the field in his debut. Rivers was active defensively, however the Clippers were -18 in point differential in the 12 minutes that he played. Rivers gave up a key turnover with 9:13 to go in the fourth quarter, which gave the Cavaliers a 101-100 lead. LeBron James immediately followed up with a three-point play to put the Cavaliers up by four. This was a key sequence in the game from which the Clippers never fully recovered.

After the game, Doc Rivers was quick to say that his son did not play well. Austin agreed with his father and coach.

“A lot of it was just nerves,” said Austin Rivers. “I just felt like I was a little bit too tentative tonight. I was trying to fit in instead of just play. I felt like the whole game I was just trying to fit in. When you do that, you don’t fit in.

“I think the biggest mistake I made tonight was just being tentative and ease into the game, and that’s not who I am. I just got to go out there and be aggressive. Makes and misses, I’m not worried about that. But even the shots I missed tonight, they were tentative, they were unsure and I’ve never played like that, which is why I’m so angry at myself. If I would have went out there and I was aggressive and I was 0-for-8, I would not even be mad right now. I’m more mad that we lost and I played that way.”

To be fair to Rivers, he completed his physical Friday evening, but was unable to participate in the team’s pregame shoot around. With no practices under his belt, there were sure to be some rough patches in his first outing with the team.

However, it’s not clear that time and familiarity will turn Rivers into a significant contributor for the Clippers. Rivers has career averages of 6.9 points, 2.3 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game, along with 38.8 percent shooting from the field, and 32.9 percent shooting from beyond-the-arc. A combo guard, Rivers does not excel at playmaking or shooting, which will likely be an issue for a Clippers team that is in need of a backup point guard to run the second-unit.

But at just 22 years of age, Rivers has room to improve. Hopefully for both father and son that improvement comes soon as both faced a lot of questions Friday night about the inherent concerns and issues that arise from this unprecedented situation.

Austin Rivers will get his next shot to contribute later today as the Clippers face the Kings at 7:00 in Sacramento.


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Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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