Was Cleveland's Trade to Acquire Timofey Mozgov Worthwhile?

Did the Cavs do the right thing by trading for Timofey Mozgov?

The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired center Timofey Mozgov and a future second-round pick from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for two future first-round picks yesterday, according to multiple sources. Cleveland has been shopping for a rim-protecting big for a few months now, and their 107.6 defensive rating (per Basketball Reference) pushed them to finally make the move.

Mozgov isn't exactly an elite rim protector, but he should improve their 23rd-ranked defense as long as he’s not facing Blake Griffin. Let’s see how much he impacts the Cavs and whether his price was worth it.

Rim Protection

Like I said above, Mozgov isn't an elite rim protector, but he’s better than what the Cavaliers already have and immediately becomes their best rim protector (he ranks as the 34th best rim protector in the NBA according to Tom Haberstroh). With Anderon Varejao going down for the season, Cleveland has been forced to play Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love at center, two players who can't protect the rim (ranked 51st and 119th respectively).

Here’s a chart showing just how big of a difference Mozgov is going to be, with data from Nylon Calculus, compiled by Seth Partnow.

Points Saved per 36 refers to the number of points a player saves per 36 minutes, calculated from the number of shots they contest and opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim. A positive number refers to the number of points saved over the league average.

As you can see above, Mozgov is significantly better than both Love and Thompson, who are both below league average rim protectors. When it comes to opponents’ field goal percentage, Mozgov is their only center who allows opponents to shoot under 50%. The only other Cavalier to allow under 50% field goal percentage at the rim is Shawn Marion, who isn’t big enough to play at the center position and only challenges 1.6 shots per game at the rim, per In fact, the entire Cavaliers team is 30th in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed at the rim at 56.5%, and there's no doubt Mozgov is a big improvement there.

Rebounding and Offense

Mozgov has only grabbed 54.9% of his rebounding chances this season, a number that’s slightly below average for big men. But that could be because he's usually shared the court with other big men in Denver, like Kenneth Faried. Mozgov has grabbed 40.8% of contested rebounds, a number that’s more promising and closer to the elite levels in the league (between 45%-55% is considered really good). With Mozgov mostly playing next to rebounding monster Kevin Love, he doesn’t really have to be that active on the boards, and he’s good enough to hold his own when needed.

On offense, Mozgov is average at best, but he doesn’t need to be great. Miami won a title with Chris Andersen at center, and Mozgov isn't worse. Check out Mozgov’s shot chart below:

As you can see, Mozgov is average at finishing around the rim, and if he can eliminate his baseline jumper, he won’t hurt the Cleveland on offense.

Rest-of-Season Projections

We’ve ran our projections on Cleveland after the trade and found some interesting results. With Mozgov, we project Cleveland to have a defensive rating of 107.4, which is a significant improvement considering that the Cavs have had a 109.5 defensive rating without Varejao on the court this season. With Mozgov, Cleveland’s playoff chances increase slightly from 97.9% to 98.1%, and their championship chances increase from 3.2% to 3.3%.

The odds for the playoffs don’t change too much due to already being sky high, but the championship chances are a bit concerning. It's not a significant difference, and the reason it’s so low is likely because our numbers project Cleveland to be worse on offense with Mozgov than they would have been with Tristan Thompson. The question becomes whether Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Love can produce enough firepower to be able to keep Mozgov on the floor for his defense.

Only time will tell whether this was a good trade, but from the looks of it, the Cavs haven’t improved their championship chances as much as they should have considering they traded away two first-round picks. If Cleveland don’t find a way to win a championship this year or next, questions will be asked about this trade and whether or not it ends up hurting them long term. For now, just buckle up and enjoy the show.