Timofey Mozgov was the first free agent the Lakers added this offseason. His contract was considered horrendous at four years, $64 million based on his mediocre play in previous seasons, health and a changing NBA game. Through the first 11 games of the season, Mozgov has been an upgrade at center the Lakers desperately needed and is starting to show some early returns on his big offseason contract.
The Lakers were previously employing Roy Hibbert (at a cost of $15.5 million) to produce 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 44 percent. Hibbert posted an offensive rating of 105 and a defensive rating of 110 last season, proving he was not a positive on either ends of the floor for L.A.
The Lakers desperately needed somebody who could run the floor and contribute something at the center position on both ends. This doesn’t justify handing out the contract, but it makes it easier to swallow.
Mozgov, in 10 games, is giving LA 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 65 percent from the floor. While his defensive presence hasn’t been an upgrade to this point (defensive rating is the same as Hibbert’s 110), his offensive rating of 117 is a massive leap for LA. The Lakers are seeing the benefits of having a league-average center (Mozgov’s PER is 15, Hibbert’s was 11.2 last season) on the offensive end, scoring the 6th most points on the 3rd highest field goal percentage in the league.
The Lakers offense has allowed Mozgov to expand his game while still being a strong finisher. He is shooting 86 percent on shots 0-3 feet from the hoop, according to basketball-reference.com. Although he’s only taken eight shots from between 10 feet and the three-point line, Mozgov has converted half of those attempts. If he can continue to hit those shots at near that rate, Mozgov will be able to add even more versatility to the Lakers offense and his game will age better.
At 30, Mozgov’s health and long-term viability are still issues that could come back to haunt LA. He’s not the center of the future (other frontcourt players like Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac might fill that role), but he’s the best center for the Lakers at this point. Eventually his big contract will be a problem, but for now, his play is providing strong early returns on that big contract many people hated.