New Knick Timofey Mozgov plays like a high school student who was just released from detention -- very energetic. He even looks young on the court, reacting to plays and movements with a sense of urgency yet uncertainty, like he's playing among veterans. But when the Russian center played against Team USA this morning in the FIBA World Championship quarterfinal game, he showed signs he can materialize into a solid NBA player one day. Here are some observations on Mozgov, who came right off the bench to make his first three shots and ended up scoring 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting:
Strengths: Overall, Mozgov plays like Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao. He's very active around the basket and he doesn't seem to rush on his finishes like Kwame Brown. Off transitional rebounds, he's very nimble down the court and doesn't hesitate to set screens for his teammates. Lastly, because Team USA was more undersized than Russia, Mozgov had to guard Kevin Durant at times, but he did not back down from the challenge and he looked determined in a polished defensive position. That confidence is something to note. Even though Durant was a step faster, Mozgov will be guarding players of his own size and footwork speed in the NBA, so he should be much better off with his day-to-day assignments.
Weaknesses: Basically, he's a bit raw, even though he's 24 years old. But don't forget he really only broke onto the international stage last summer at the European championship, and now he's in the NBA. So that's an encouraging sign he can improve quickly. He doesn't appear to be well-coached by the Russian team, because he looked a bit scatterbrained on the court today, but that will change once he puts on his Knicks uniform. He just needs to understand the game more and be proactive on offense beyond picking defenders, such as fighting for position in the paint and not relying to score as much off offensive rebounds. But, hey, the Knicks do need more boarding. Lastly, he'll have to add some bulk so he won't get pushed around in the paint, like he did against Lamar Odom.
One other thing to keep in mind is this (from Knicks beat writer Frank Isola on his Twitter page): "I know some have Timofey Mozgov as a lock for the Hall of Fame but just remember Memphis C Hamed Haddadi averaged 20 ppg at the Worlds." Worst case scenario, he's Varejao; best case, Brook Lopez, a potential cross-river foe for years to come.
Jared Zwerling is a senior researcher for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN RISE. You can follow him on Twitter: @jaredzwerling