Timofey Mozgov is struggling and he has been for some time. But until last night, he was still playing every night and seemed to be part of the rotation, albeit a small one. So are Mozgov's days as a rotation player finished?
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): So, in the Cavs’ win against the Mavs last night, Timofey Mozgov didn’t play a single minute. As far as we know, he isn't hurt and per coach Tyronn Lue, he didn’t play because it would have been ‘unfair’ put him up against Dirk Nowitzki.
Ty Lue said that he thought it would be unfair to ask Timo to play on Dirk Nowitzki, which is why he didn't play tonight. #Cavs— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) March 17, 2016
That’s not exactly a vote of confidence. So, Carter, I’ll ask you this: Is this the beginning of the end for Mozgov as a rotation player? For what it's worth, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal noted in his always great final thoughts piece that Mozgov will probably start Friday vs. the Magic.
Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): I think it should be, but I’m not sure if it is. Tyronn Lue has played fast and loose with his rotations from game-to-game. He’s a rookie coach, and hasn’t quite settled in on what he wants to see from the team.
He’s seemingly been very focused on matchups from game to game, and that could be a good thing. The Mavs didn’t play Zaza Pachulia more than spot minutes, so without a "center" to match up against, Lue didn’t seem comfortable throwing him out there.
Of course, Lue has made a big deal out of sparing Tristan Thompson from the full-time contact that comes with playing center. Against this team, he wasn’t going to deal with that.
How much do you buy that logic, and how much do you think it played into tonight’s DNP?
Manning: I think that’s pretty spot on. Perhaps the biggest critique I’ve had of Lue thus far is that he hasn’t really pegged down this rotations yet and I think there’s something there that relates to how off the Cavs look at times.
That being said, how many teams are the Cavs actually playing that feature big, bruising centers? And against the Mavs, it’s not as if Dirk is someone who is particularly bruising and while he’s skilled, he’s not exactly quick anymore.
Let me put it this way: I’d bet last year’s version of Mozgov plays against Dallas and saw time defending Dirk.
Rodriguez: I think that’s probably true, and it’s a testament to how far he’s fallen this season that he couldn’t find his way onto the floor. I can’t imagine many Cavs fans were pining for him at any point in the game either.
Mozgov’s decline has been really stunning, and I don’t know what there is to be done at this point. He’s running out of time to fix it, and the Cavs really can’t afford to try to get him back on track at the expense of the whole. Their margin of error is almost zero, and with the way it’s going, Mozgov doesn’t fit into that margin.
Manning: I tend to agree, but here’s the thing: Cleveland might still need Mozgov in the playoffs. We tend to assume that it’ll be Cavs-Warriors II, but the Spurs could still make it. There’s also a non-zero chance the Thunder make the Finals. In both of those series, you probably need to at least try to play Mozgov. Channing Frye is a decent defender, but in theory, Mozgov is a better option vs. San Antonio's LaMarcus Aldridge/Tim Duncan duo.
But it’s also hard to play him with Thompson - who is going to play a lot - and his only ideal pairing is with Love. Thompson also happens to be good with Love, and their two-man lineups are outscoring opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions. Mozgov/Love pairings are outscoring opponents by 0.1 points per 100 possessions. There’s a clear difference and hierarchy here. And Thompson is definitely the better overall, more versatile defender.
Rodriguez: Yeah, was about to mention that the Love/Mozgov pairing just isn’t good enough, and he’s the only other Cavalier big that Mozgov can’t conceivably pair with. At this point, it just makes the most sense to play Thompson slightly more minutes and throw fourth big duty to LeBron James who can slide in at power forward.
I think this is probably the answer, but this runs the risk of overextending Thompson and reducing time for the LeBron/Love/Thompson trio, which has devastated opponents this season.
There’s no clear answer, and ideally, Mozgov would just return to last season’s form.
Unfortunately, I’m just not sure that’s coming.
Manning: I agree and I think that makes the Frye acquisition all the more important. He’s a good enough defender, even if he doesn’t protect the rim, and he is actually a useful offense player. He gives the Cavs a needed shooter and unlocks parts of Cleveland’s offensive potential that Mozgov can’t. Plus, we all know LeBron is going to play the four when it matters and that squeezes Mozgov’s minutes too and would have even if the Cavs didn’t land Frye.
You do have to feel for Mozgov too. If he had been a free agent last summer, he was probably going to get paid a lot of money. This year, he’s been a shell of himself and it’s hard to see why any team would pony up for him over the summer. Maybe it’s the knee injury he had coming into the season, maybe it’s confidence, maybe it’s both. But, to me, it seems as if Mozgov’s days as a rotation player with the Cavs, and maybe with the team after the year, are numbered.