Rounding out the bottom five of our #NuggetsRank countdown is third-year center Timofey Mozgov. Although he showed tangible improvement in terms of production, Mozgov never found a consistent role in an up-and-down sophomore season with the Nuggets.
He now enters the final year of his contract as one of the biggest unknowns on the team.
Mozgov began last year’s lockout-shortened season as the de facto starting center, but never looked comfortable in that role before injuries and inconsistency starting affecting his playing time. He notably bounced back as an impact player and eventual starter in the Lakers series, but prior to that Mozgov was out of the rotation completely. The Nuggets left him on the bench for their playoff push after he struggled to return from an ankle injury.
Where Mozgov stands heading into this season is anyone’s guess. His defense has proven to be useful against the more physical teams in the league, but he’s been foul prone and inconsistent. He looks coordinated and aware in the overseas game, but his offense is marred by a high turnover rate and low field goal percentage at the rim.
Mozgov has shown reasonable development in his first two NBA seasons, raising his rebound rate and true shooting percentage each year. On the other hand his turnover problem has gone from bad to worse. There’s still reason to hope Mozgov puts it together this year, but he’s now 26 and still trying to establish himself as a rotation player.
He may not have youth or the promise of boundless potential on his side anymore, but Mozgov still shows flashes of an ideal package of size and skill otherwise missing on Denver’s roster. The Nuggets wouldn’t have brought him back from the dead in the playoffs if he didn’t offer something unique
In theory, Mozgov should be the mobile big who can physically match up with true centers in Denver’s uptempo style. In practice, he gives you solid D in exchange for little to no offense with plenty of turnovers. He turned the ball over on 19.8% of his possessions last season, an absurd amount for a low usage backup center and worse than his rookie mark of 18.3%.
Even with a mostly inept offensive game, Mozgov has shown enough in other areas to avoid being shut out of the long-term plans entirely. It’s not out of the question for the Nuggets to extend his contract and keep him as a compliment to JaVale McGee in a scenario the Nuggets will be betting on by giving him minutes next season.
Mozgov had an active summer, first qualifying for the Olympics in Venezuela and of course being Russia’s second leading scorer throughout their Bronze medal run in London. It’s hard to say with certainty that the Nuggets can learn anything concrete from the Olympics, but it is evidence Mozgov can be an effective two-way center in a FIBA setting.
Nuggets fans may not have to wait much longer to find out whether or not Mozgov’s European success will ever translate to the NBA. At this stage in his development, there’s no more time keep waiting around for an answer.
Mozgov will walk a fine line between trade chip and promising young player throughout the upcoming season. On opening night he could conceivably be the starting center or out of rotation altogether.
It’s clear Timofey Mozgov has untapped potential as a player who gives the Nuggets frontcourt a different look, but much harder to see where he fits into the long-term plan. While he’s certainly good enough to garner continued development somewhere in the league, his window for doing it in Denver is rapidly coming to a close.