Pieces are raining down from the sky in Cleveland. With the announcement this week that third-year shooting guard (and professional chucker) Dion Waiters is heading to Oklahoma City, 11-year chucker (and filterless social media savant) J.R. Smith is heading to Cleveland, as are fellow former-Knick Iman Shumpert (currently injured) and former-Nuggets seven-footer Timofey Mozgov.
Cleveland will make the playoffs. They sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, on a lousy-when-compared-to-anticipated 19-17 record and are just 12-8 against teams with below .500 records. Here are some bright spots: Cavaliers dish out 22.4 assists per game (12th in the league), have an adjusted field goal percentage figure of 50 percent and only turn the ball over 13 times per game (8th in the league).
A new basketball metric is seemingly developed each week, which is downright tantalizing for the sport — but some of Cleveland’s problems are so glaring they are caught with the eye test. David Blatt’s crew can’t rebound and couldn’t even before starting center Anderson Varejao’s Achilles’ injury cost him the rest of the season.
Without a center, Love has been tasked with taking over the position. Despite never having played more than 46 percent of his minutes in a season at center, he has played 87 percent of his minutes this year at the position. It hasn’t worked, but Tristan Thompson can’t do it either, so really, the team had no other option.
Insert Timofey Mozgov: a fifth-year player — now a starting-caliber center, to the Cavalier equation. He’s 7 feet 1 and hasn’t had a season averaging more than 10 points or seven rebounds. But he has played exclusively in half-developed systems, gained a foothold in the league due to his size and now has a chance to play a part in an ostensibly dynamic offense.
As of Thursday, Cleveland ranked 17th in defensive rebound rate, but 11th in offensive rebound rate. The addition of Mozgov should help bring those figures closer together, considering that 66.5 percent of his rebounds have come on the defensive end this season.
Mozgov is rebounding at a career-high rate (10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes); he ranks 26th in total rebounds this season. The numbers are somewhat misleading, given that he’s also averaging a career high in minutes played per game (25.6).
He averages just 3.2 contested rebounds per game, which isn’t much; so while Cleveland is hoping their new seven-footer can saturate the low-block, improvements will need to be made from the entire frontcourt. Like Love, Mozgov grabs a hefty chunk of his rebounds uncontested. A 40 percent contested rebounding percentage may be fine for a power forward, but if Cleveland wants to solidify their interior, they’ll need Mozgov’s 40.8 contested rebounding percentage figure to rise.
Here’s how his figure stacks up against other centers in the league:
The team’s real problems are — and were expected to be — on the defensive end. As of Thursday, Cleveland was tied for 23rd place in defensive efficiency. The porous defense’s problems stem from the interior.
Here’s where Mozgov really adds to the Cavalier equation: opponents shoot just 48.6 percent at the rim against him. This isn’t a noteworthy figure when applied to star-center rim protectors like Rudy Gobert (38.5 percent) Andrew Bogut (39.5 percent) and Serge Ibaka (40.1 percent). But it’s a lower percentage that shot block aficionado Anthony Davis (50 percent), rebound hoarder Andre Drummond (50 percent) and Omer Asik (50 percent). He also immediately becomes the best rim protector on the Cavalier roster: Thompson had the lowest opponent field goal percentage figure on the team (50.4 percent).
There are expected growing pains in Cleveland, systemic problems that have sapped a great deal of the enthusiasm surrounding the team in months prior to the season. But if Mozgov can leverage his height against myriad interior problems and provide quality minutes that allow Love to return to the power forward position, the Cavaliers will be a more balanced team in the second half of the season.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Vice, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He’s currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer. Let him know on Twitter (@JPlanos) how baseless his work is.