In July the Denver Nuggets decided to re-sign center Timofey Mozgov to a three-year, $14 million contract. That’s a lot of money, especially to a player that only averaged 8.9 minutes per game the year before. Was it a move of desperation? Potentially. Earlier that offseason the Nuggets traded Kosta Koufos to the Memphis Grizzles as a way to clear up salary to try and re-sign Andre Iguodala. Well, we all know how that ended up. Iguodala spurned the Nuggets and decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors.
To help soften the blow the Nuggets decided to sign J.J. Hickson. Hickson has been solid for coach Brian Shaw. The sixth-year man out of North Carolina State is enjoying one of his best years as a pro. The power forward is averaging 11 points and eight rebounds in just 24 minutes a game. With the absence of JaVale McGee, Shaw was forced to start Hickson at center. At 6’9’’ and 242 pounds, Hickson is easily undersized against most of the centers in the NBA. To my surprise, Hickson has actually played better as a center than a forward this season. In 18 starts as a center he is averaging 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds. Additionally he is shooting the rock at a 52.6 percent clip while playing the center position. His versatility has helped Shaw as the Nuggets deal with a multitude of injuries early on this season.
Back to the Timofey Mozgov signing. After the news of his contract came out, many fans posted on message boards that the Lithuanian big man is being vastly overpaid. In their defense, they made fair points. He only played 8.9 minutes per game and was basically out of then-coach George Karl’s rotation. How has Mozgov responded to the bigger role? I’ll let the stats do the talking. The 7’1’’ center is on pace to average career highs in every major category. Looking beyond the stats-Mozgov has been able to provide another big body for Shaw. That has been especially helpful after the McGee injury.
I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Teams don’t have to make big splashes in free agency to improve. The Nuggets lost their best player, Iguodala, and they still find themselves in the thick of things. That is despite not having McGee or Danilo Gallinari. The question now for Denver becomes what to do with their rotation once McGee and Gallinari are back. Will they trade some of their pieces away? Time will tell.