The Knicks' season begins in just more than a month. We couldn't possibly be more excited — finally, a Knicks team with barely an Isiah Thomas fingerprint on it! — so, until the season starts, we'll be counting down the ten most important Knicks twice a week until opening night on October 27. The best sign we can give you: Eddy Curry isn't among the eleven. Today: Center Timofey Mozgov.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Knicks' signing of Russian center Timofey Mozgov back in July was the legitimate shock of it. Not only was the Knicks' announcement surprising, it was also inexplicable: No one seemed to have the foggiest idea who this guy was. All anyone knew was that he was Russian, which made everyone believe, because Mikhael Prokhorov was dominating the airwaves at that time, the Knicks were just inking Mozgov to throw a brush-back pitch at the Nets owner. Mozgov had other ideas.
"I really focused on the Knicks," said Mozgov's agent. "And I did not focus on the Nets because the Nets would take longer to rebuild. I liked Mike D'Antoni's system better than the Nets."
That was exactly what Knicks fans needed to hear then, even if they knew nothing about the man, other than that he was seven-foot-one, faster than you would think, and compared to D.J. Mbenga.. Three years, only one of which is guaranteed, $9.7 million ... no harm, no foul.
Then the World Championships happened. Mozgov didn't exactly explode, Kevin Durant–like, on the competition, but certainly, nobody was calling him Tina Fey Mozgov. He came off the bench to average more than twelve points and, most important, looked like the type of slashing, cutting, and finishing center that is a perfect fit for what D'Antoni is trying to do. The Russian national coach, David Blatt, said he had been coddled too much in the Russian system and was ready to blossom.
"I think it's going to be easier for him in the N.B.A. than in Europe," Blatt said. "He's not going to have to be a lead player, and they'll probably put him in a small area of the game where he has to pick and cut or run the break hard, which he does extremely well.
Pick and cut? Run the break hard? At seven-foot-one? You can hear the pitter-patter of our heart.
Obviously, he's not a savior: He's still a guy no one had heard of who hasn't played at any top level, one who was manhandled by Lamar Odom in the semifinals of the World Championships. Part of his job will be to spell Amar'e Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf, take away some of their pressure and physical punishment ... but Mozgov's still a little skinny to fight it out too much underneath. He's also still quite raw, someone who is a theoretical perfect fit for D'Antoni but maybe not a practical one. And he needs to learn to shoot a little better.
But he is unknown and different and a hypothetical perfect fit. Past years, you would have gotten too excited about a guy like Mozgov, desperate for some sense of hope anywhere, even one from mystery. Now? Now he's the sixth least important newcomer. That, friends, is progress.
Plus: He now allows both Nets and Knicks fans to make countless Ivan Drago jokes.
Earlier: No. 11 Bill Walker