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Mozgov's skills a big surprise for Knicks

Russia's Timofey Mozgov, left, is defended by China's

Russia's Timofey Mozgov, left, is defended by China's Yi Jianlian during their World Championship preliminary round game in Ankara, Turkey. (Sept. 1, 2010) Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

No one expected Eddy Curry to be the Knicks' starting center this season. But the Knicks had been holding out slim hope that he would be a big body they could throw in there at the five spot on a semiregular basis.

With the news that Curry has a strained right hamstring that will sideline him a minimum of four weeks, the Knicks are talking as if they have moved on to another mysterious big-man project: 7-1 Russian Timofey Mozgov.

Coach Mike D'Antoni, in fact, labeled the 25-year-old center one of the most pleasant surprises of training camp.

"We were hoping, but we just didn't know," D'Antoni said of the team's attitude when they signed Mozgov. "He's shown us what we saw on tape and what we saw when we worked him out, which is good."

Mozgov is one of a number of big men the Knicks added this summer. Ronny Turiaf, a career backup whom the Knicks acquired from the Warriors in the David Lee trade, has been starting at center alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony Randolph, a second-year player who also came in the Lee deal.

The Knicks signed Mozgov, who has played professionally in Russia for six seasons, as a free agent in July. A month later, it began looking like a pretty good move when Mozgov averaged 12 points for Russia during the World Championships.

Assistant coach Herb Williams, who has been working with Mozgov, believes he has the skills to play right away in the NBA.

"He's a big body, and he runs the floor well," Williams said. "He's picking and rolling, he's catching the ball, he's going to draw some attention. He rebounds the ball well. He does a lot of stuff."

Williams doesn't speak Russian and Mozgov is learning English, but they seem to speak the same language on the practice court. One of the things Williams is trying to teach Mozgov is how to use his big body without getting into foul trouble.

"Even when he's posting up and bumping, I'm teaching him to bump, but not bump and go through," Williams said. "You start to lean your shoulder to go through a guy, they're going to call it. But if you don't lean your shoulder to go through, they won't call it. When you bump a guy, you just turn and shoot."

D'Antoni said he isn't overly concerned about Mozgov getting into foul trouble. "I'd rather have someone fouling and playing hard and trying to have to shift the gear down, instead of trying to rev him up."

In other words, after years of watching Knicks coaches try to kick-start Curry, watching Mozgov use his high energy to bang around the floor will be a welcome change of pace.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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