Mike D'Antoni's vote of confidence in Timofey Mozgov's basketball ability, if not his language skills


timofey_mozgov_new_york_knicks.jpgAll basketball coaches play favorites, but Mike D’Antoni — no stranger to wearing his opinion on his press scrum sleeve — is a bit more forthcoming with that information than most NBA types. It’s still something short of explicit, but deciphering Pringles’ player-specific quotes doesn’t take much imagination.

Plenty of this year’s Knicks have D’Antoni gushing (Danilo Gallinari, per esempio, is a typical target of praise showers, even if Amar’e Stoudemire may soon give D’Antoni a run for his money as president of the Gallo Fan Club), but he clearly thinks the world of undrafted free agent rookie Timofey Mozgov.

There is one tiny, tiny problem, though. From Marc Berman of the New York Post:

has already called Mozgov training camp’s brightest light. In the
preseason opener, the sturdy center scored a smooth 10 points with five
rebounds in 19 minutes. But D’Antoni is still leery of giving him the starting job at the
outset, partly due to the language barrier that reared its ugly head in
the Knicks’ preseason-opening victory in Milan. “I’m trying to hold down, curb my enthusiasm,” D’Antoni said of Mozgov. “I think he can play. I don’t see anything bad.”

..,D’Antoni even marveled at Mozgov during yesterday’s light practice. “I
watched him,” D’Antoni said. “He can shot the ball, nice rhythm. He has
a learning curve. But he’s smart. He makes foul shots. His confidence
is good. He’s definitely not shying away, attacking the basket.” However,
Mozgov, who speaks only a drop of English, experienced a series of
defensive lapses but only because he misheard the defensive scheme.

changed up our pick-and-roll defense to a zone and over,” D’Antoni
said. “He only heard zone. And for four plays, I was like, ‘Why are
they scoring?’ He just heard zone.”

Even as the game continues to globalize, basketball doesn’t act as some magical translator. There are the universals — ‘rebound,’ ‘screen,’ or in this case, ‘zone’ — but the language barrier that international players face is a very real thing. It prevents international players from picking up play calls on the fly, just as it hinders their development on the practice court and stymies their camaraderie with their teammates.

And in this case, it could end up costing Mozgov a starting job, even if his playing abilities say he’s deserving of the gig. It’s a bummer, but if the Knicks’ big man is as talented as D’Antoni seems to believe, he’ll be jumping center for New York in no time.

Kevin Love unsure about opening-night return

Kevin Love
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He’s back in practice with the Cavaliers, but there’s still no clarity on whether Kevin Love will be available for the season opener. Love had shoulder surgery in April after suffering a torn labrum in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, and doctors initially gave him a timetable of four to six months for a return. The six-month end of that is right around opening night (October 27), but Love still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Bulls—although he is hopeful.

Via the Sporting News‘ Sean Deveney:

“I feel pretty good,” Love told Sporting News. “As far as the opener goes, I am not completely sure. I’ll probably get with the doctors and see what they have to say. I know that my six-month post-op is coming up here pretty fast. As far as getting the strength back, getting the range of motion, I feel pretty good, so I am looking forward to getting into some more contact, getting into a rhythm and getting out there as quickly as I can.”

Love has been cleared for 3-on-3 practices, but not yet for 5-on-5. If it were up to him, he’d be back on the court, but he understands he needs to follow the rehab protocol for his injury.

“(Six months is) just a ballpark figure that has generally been thrown out there by anybody who has talked about the rehab process for this kind of an injury,” Love said. “I like to think that I am ahead of the game, but there’s different tests and the due diligence that the doctor will go through and the training staff will go through. So all I can do is go out there every day and attack my rehab and hopefully I will be able to go out there and help these guys as soon as possible.”

At the very least, the Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving (still recovering from knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (out up to three months with a wrist injury), and probably Tristan Thompson too, unless his contract situation changes unexpectedly. So having Love available would be some much-needed good news. But it’s more important that Love (and everyone else) is healthy for the playoffs. If he’s not ready to play, there’s no need to rush back for an October game.

Greg Smith fails physical, will not join Pelicans

Greg Smith
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With both starter Omer Asik and backup Alexis Ajinca out injured for the rest of the preseason (and maybe a little longer), the Pelicans are looking for a center to put next to Anthony Davis for a stretch. That could include a handful of regular season games.

Greg Smith was going to be that man, but the 24-year-old failed his physical, reports the Times-Picayune.

The New Orleans Pelicans were set to sign power forward Greg Smith, but sources said Friday night that he failed his physical examination and will not be joining the team.

And so the search goes on.

The problem is, there are not quality big men still out there on the market, there is a limited supply and just about anyone worth having is spoken for. A few with non-guaranteed contracts may be waived as we get closer to the end of training camps, but that is likely a couple of weeks away.

With both Asik and Ajinca expected back in a few weeks, it’s not worth making a trade or some big move to bring in a center, the Pelicans are just going to have to live with what is out there.