A letter to Denver Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw:
“Dear Coach Brain Shaw,
It’s obviously time to start Timofey Mozgov.
Denver Nuggets fans.”
Simple, but true. Shaw needs wins, so adjustments need to be made in order for the Nuggets to make the playoffs. The most obvious one: start Timofey Mozgov over current starter JJ Hickson.
No matter who’s starting, it’s important for a .500 team to get the most out of their minutes. The Nuggets aren’t utilizing their minutes at the center position by starting and playing JJ Hickson. The loss Wednesday night to Charlotte at home made this adjustment as clear as day. It needs to happen.
In the loss, bench player Mozgov had a +17 plus/minus ratio, meaning the Nuggets outscored the Bobcats by 17 while Mozgov was in the game. JJ Hickson? -18.
The “old school” stats say that Hickson is playing better than Mozgov. After all, Hickson is scoring 2.2 more points a game than Mozgov, and grabbing 3.1 more rebounds a game. However, the advanced stats show Mozgov is clearly the best player at center.
Timofey has the Nuggets’ third highest Player Efficiency Rating at 18.2. This is a statistic that takes into account all of the players’ stats over the number of minutes played. Mozgov’s number trails only the team’s two best players in Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Hickson is a full two points less efficient with a PER of 16.2.
Unlike the Lawson and Faried, the real advantage Mozgov has over Hickson comes on the defensive end for the Nuggets. Defense is a true trouble spot for a team that’s won only eight of 14 in January despite leading the league in points scored over the month.
On the defensive end Mozgov simply plugs the paint when Hickson doesn’t. Mozgov is averaging 2.2 blocks over 36 minutes, while Hickson is averaging only one over 36 minutes.
Those important blocks are coming without sacrificing too many defensive rebounds. Mozgov only averages one less defensive rebound a game over 36 minutes than Hickson, and we’ve all seen Hickson hustle to an easy rebound a teammate would’ve had to pad his stats.
If the Nuggets are just sacrificing offense for defense, this decision would be a little tougher. However, Mozgov is also playing better on offense than Hickson is – Basketball-Reference.com lists Mozgov as having a 116 offensive rating (the combined rating of all offensive stats) for the season. JJ Hickson has only a 105 rating.
How could Mozgov be that much more efficient on offense? Simple. HE MAKES HIS FREE THROWS. Mozgov provides a huge benefit to the Nuggets throughout the game by shooting 75 percent from the line compared to Hickson’s 55 percent.
In fact, Hickson’s been so bad shooting from the line that Sacramento used the Hack-A-Hickson technique to intentionally send him to the line to slow the Nuggets down in last Sunday’s win.
In Hickson’s defense, he truly is a power forward playing the center position due to roster injuries. A power forward gives up both height and weight to centers, and that makes defense a lot harder. Also, Hickson has had great games this season – I doubt we see a night where Mozgov grabs 24 rebounds in a single game like Hickson did in a win over the Golden State Warriors.
However, this Denver Nuggets team doesn’t need rebounds as much as they need defense, especially in the interior. It’s not time to give Hickson the Andre Miller treatment, but it is time to let the player considered an afterthought in the Carmelo Anthony trade to start and give his team the best chance to win.