Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton usually likes to close with smaller units, but against the imposing frontline of the Sacramento Kings he had no choice other than to stay super-sized. This led to a season-high 33 minutes from Timofey Mozgov, and while he may not be living up to his gargantuan contract just yet, he got a chance to show why Los Angeles gave it to him in the Lakers 101-91 win over the Kings.
It’s rare to say that a player is “held” to 28 points, but it took DeMarcus Cousins 25 shots to get their in part due to the efforts of Mozgov. The seven-footer was the only Laker with the requisite bulk to deter Cousins down low, and if Cousins hadn’t hit an unsustainable three of his six three-pointers his stat line would look even less strong.
While Mozgov’s defense was about as solid as one could realistically expect against Sacramento, it was his offense that made the biggest difference for Los Angeles. The big man set up his teammates with boulder-like screens:
As well as making quick passes when he received the ball out of pick-and-rolls (yes, Luol Deng missed the shot at the bottom but it was illustrative of how Mozgov kept the ball moving):
And he also scored 10 points of his own on just six shots, the most emphatic of which set Twitter ablaze:
Mozgov throws down a monster one-handed slam off Ingram's lob ( : TNT) pic.twitter.com/q5zVHwJGzg— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) November 11, 2016
As one would expect for a player mostly expected to score on garbage buckets around the rim, his shot chart features a lack of diversity:
Mozgov needed a game like this, because his overall numbers for the season don’t look so solid. The defense Mozgov was mostly brought in to play has been significantly worse with him on the floor (giving up 110.7 points per 100 possessions) than it is with him off (98.7).
Some of that is due to the Lakers not boasting a ton of strong defensive players in their starting unit while going up against other team’s best offensive groupings, but it can’t be ignored how much better the Lakers have looked for most of the year when they go small with Julius Randle or Larry Nance. Jr. at center.
Even the one specific area of defense Mozgov is supposed to be best at (rim protection) hasn’t been anything to write home about this year. It looks promising upon first glance that team’s are shooting a worse than league average 55.8 percent at the rim when Mozgov is defending it. The only problem is that league average is 56 percent, and that .2 percent lower success rate hardly seems to be a worthy justification for a contract reportedly worth an average of $16 million annually.
When he seems at his most useful against the behemoth post-scorers that can be counted on one-hand as the NBA trends towards more versatile big men, how much value Mozgov can bring to the Lakers? Due to the length and amount of money on his contract, the Lakers are certainly going to find out. Thursday night showed why the team valued him so highly, but how often he can repeat the feat remains a mystery.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or listen to our latest episode below, featuring discussion of Mozgov’s play and much more: