Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — As the Knicks prepare to play exhibition games in Italy and France, the most intriguing player on their roster is a 7-foot-1 Russian.
Timofey Mozgov, a 24-year-old from St. Petersburg, Russia, has the potential to give the Knicks something they have sorely lacked in recent years: an athletic, mobile force patrolling the paint.
“He’s definitely mobile,” Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire said Wednesday after practice before the team departed for Europe.
“He’s great around the basket. He can shoot the ball from the outside. He’s crafty. He’s a great rebounder. Once he gets acclimated to playing against other NBA players, he’s going to get better.”
Mozgov, who practiced Wednesday with the second unit, spent six seasons in Russia and averaged 7.5 points and 4.8 rebounds last season with BC Khimki. He excelled with Russia in the FIBA World Championships this summer, scoring 13 points in a loss to the U.S., the eventual gold medal winners.
Mozgov signed as a three-year, $9 million deal with the Knicks in July and so far head coach Mike D’Antoni is impressed with his handle, mobility and willingness to do the dirty work of blocking shots and rebounding.
“His instincts on defense are real good, his offensive instincts are great,” D’Antoni said. “He knows how to set other people up. And he keeps better at his shot and getting more confident.”
He added: “He’s not a finesse guy, but he’s not total power. Hopefully, he’s a combo of a lot of guys that have a lot of power that when he needs it and is able to finesse when he doesn’t.”
Mozgov has looked impressive so far despite speaking very limited English.
“The way he works, he comprehends well,” Stoudemire said. “To know only a little English, he picks up pretty quick. And it just shows you how if you can pick up on plays that quickly and not speak great English, that shows you his work ethic.”
Mozgov works every day on his outside shot with Knicks assistant Phil Weber and on his inside game with Herb Williams.
Williams played alongside Patrick Ewing in Ewing’s heyday. No one is saying Mozgov compares to Ewing, but he can provide a defensive presence to help the Knicks’ other big men — Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf and potentially Eddy Curry if Curry ever sees the floor.
“[He brings] defensive presence,” Williams said. “Coming over, covering up the paint, blocking shots, there on defense. Rebounding. He takes up space. And then we need him to pick, roll and finish around the rim.”
Mozgov is no threat to replace Danillo Gallinari as the team’s top shooter, but Williams says he can shoot it out to 18 feet.
“He has a nice touch” Williams said. “He was just never allowed to do it on the other team he was on before so it’s like all new to him. There’s going to be some good nights, some bad nights until he gets consistently knowing that it’s alright to shoot that shot.”
**Gallinari, D’Antoni return to Italy
**Tim Thomas says he isn’t retiring
(Photo courtesy NBA.com)
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.