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Is Mozgov the Answer for the Cavs

The Cavs aren’t done dealing, as they’ve traded two first round picks for Timofey Mozgov. Is he the answer for Cleveland?

For their second major trade in less than a week, the Cleveland Cavaliers shipped two protected first-round picks to the Denver Nuggets for center Timofey Mozgov, whom the Cavs have been pursuing all season.

If that seems like a steep price to pay for a solid-but-limited big man who’s averaging about 8 points and 8 rebounds per game this season, consider both draft choices came from other teams and are heavily protected. One pick, from Memphis, is top-5 and 15-30 protected in 2015 and 2016, then just top-5 in 2017 and 2018 before becoming a second-round pick after that. The other choice, from Oklahoma City, came over in the Waiters trade, and although it was initially reported as being untradeable, the Cavs included it here for Mozgov, and it’s top-18 protected this year. All those protections diminish the possibility that both picks wind up with Denver, and that makes the trade more tenable.

We also must consider the Cavaliers’ current situation in making this trade. Things are bad in Cleveland. LeBron’s health is iffy. Kevin Love isn’t playing well. David Blatt appears to be on unsteady ground. Anderson Varejao is out for the season. The team just traded for JR Smith. They’re vying for a championship on a two-year timeline, tops, with a shoddy defense. That urgency fueled the mindset behind both trades: address the team’s biggest needs in the best way possible as soon as possible.

In Mozgov, the Cavs get the rim protection they’ve been seeking all year, although instead of solidifying their bench and providing protection for Varejao, the Russian will start immediately and serve as Varejao’s replacement after he went down for the year with an Achilles tear. The Cavs would have loved have both big men healthy at the same time, but they couldn’t get the deal done in time and wound up banking on Mozgov and the waiver wire.

Timofey Mozgov

Mozgov’s rim protection will be key for Cleveland

As far as rim protection goes, Mozgov fits the bill of what Cleveland has been looking for. He’s a huge body, at 7-1 and a big 250, and he grades out well in advanced defensive metrics. According to NBA Stats, opponents shoot 48% at the rim versus Mozgov, which a top-50 mark in the league, right around the likes of DeAndre Jordan and Derrick Favors. He also grades out to have a 1.3 DBPM, a metric developed by Basketball Reference that indicates Mozgov is 3.3 points better defensively per 100 possessions than a league-average player on a league-average team. For fans of more traditional metrics, he’s also averaging almost 2 blocks per 36 minutes, and he passes the eye test as a bruising big man who’s not afraid to hold things down in the lane.

That’s exactly the kind of presence Cleveland needs right now. The Cavs are loading up on defense and three-point shooting while placing the offensive load squarely on the shoulder of their Big Three, which David Blatt is still trying to figure out. That’s a good move, to be sure, as the abilities among James, Irving, and Love should be more than enough complementary talent to produce a good offense, but Blatt needs to show results sooner rather than later, especially once LeBron returns. He claims to be feeling healthy for the first time all season, and Love has been slightly more involved in the offense during his absence, something that will hopefully lead to more productivity from the power forward in the future.

Mozgov and Shumpert fill in those dirty-work gaps that championship teams need, and Smith gives them a wild-card player who could maybe turn into instant offense off the bench. Mozgov and Shumpert both play with an edge, which is something the Cavaliers should benefit from as well. Too often in the season’s early going, Cleveland has looked sluggish and disinterested, rarely capable of encountering an opponent’s best shot without hitting back. Players with an attitude can inspire an entire team, even on a passive squad; Matt Barnes is a perfect example for the Clippers. The Cavs are no doubt hoping their new additions can provide a similar spark, though a spark from JR Smith is always a dangerous thing.

So far this season, Cleveland’s defense has been their most obvious problem. They didn’t have the personnel or put forth the effort to be great at that end. With these additions, along with the return of a healthy James, that should change, and if it doesn’t, this team could be in trouble.

As the Cavs continue to specialize their responsibilities, however, and start to rely more and more on their Big Three players for offense, it becomes increasingly important that Blatt remedy the disconnect at that end of the floor, where that group hasn’t played up to their All-Star level.

The pressure is on in Cleveland, where they’re clearly desperate to make this work. These moves should improve their squad, but if they don’t, who knows what this team might decide to do.

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