Timofey Mozgov may one day evolve into an established NBA centre, a presence whose size assures him of a long career, assuming he stays healthy.
But for now and in the foreseeable future, Mozgov has joined the posterized pantheon alongside Frederic Weis, the unassuming Frenchman who had his 15 minutes of fame after he was given a facial by Vince Carter at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
One dunk, one moment that went viral, one flashpoint that held the NBA breathless and the Blake Griffin era was officially unveiled.
The unsuspecting victim on this night was Mozgov, New York’s 7-foot-1 rookie from Russia who began the season in Toronto among the Knicks’ starting five.
In one emphatic sequence, Griffin’s explosiveness, athleticism, aggressiveness and fearlessness in attacking the rim were all on display for all to see.
It was so awe-inspiring that Griffin’s Clipper teammate, guard Randy Foye, rushed home following the game to view it on YouTube. Within days, the video would be seen by more than two million people.
In one high-wire burst, Griffin had become an instant highlight reel who would immediately become an attraction and a curiosity that has made this self-effacing native of Oklahoma the NBA’s most entertaining rookie since LeBron James.
Griffin’s dunk over Mozgov was so extraordinary that Mozgov’s teammate, Amare Stoudemire, acknowledged it by according Griffin a respectful glance as Stoudemire was about to make his way to the charity stripe.
If ever a power forward can appreciate Griffin’s explosive step, it’s Stoudemire, who sees a lot of himself in Griffin, a downright unstoppable force if he ever develops a jumper comparable to Stoudemire.
Wherever the Clippers play, the buzz Griffin creates is palpable from the moment he steps on to the floor for pre-game warmups, the anticipation growing each time he’s able to touch the basketball, reaching its climax with every foray to the hoop.
The scary part to Griffin is that he’s still learning how to play the game, which is best defined as a combination of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Shawn Kemp, minus the offsprings.
“The only thing we have in common is that we’re black,’’ mused Barkley, the round mound of rebound who was nonetheless as explosive as any player around the basket during his Hall of Fame career.
The body control, the power, the size, the ability to get off the floor and literally have his eyes meet the 10-foot high rim within the blink of an eye, any alley-oop pass or spin move in the paint is a highlight in waiting.
But no dunk and no singular sequence will associate Griffin than the night he posterized Mozgov.
“His highlights are sick,’’ Lakers swingman Ron Artest said of Griffin. “I hope he dunks on me. Would you buy that poster? I’d buy it and I’d tell him to sign it.”
But to dismiss Griffin as merely a dunker would be short-sighted, though it must be said that no play is as intimidating than a facial flush.
“It’s hard to describe other than it sends a little chill through you,” Griffin said of his many dunks.
The kid is one those once-in-a-generation talents, by all accounts a well-grounded person whose commitment is to get better in every facet of the game, refusing to buy into all the hype that surrounds his every visit on the road, which includes Toronto on Sunday.
The Clippers have a long way to go in becoming a playoff contender, but Griffin has done the improbable in making L.A.’s other NBA team relevant, no small feat given the litany of poor decisions that followed Griffin’s path to the Clippers.
TV ratings for Clippers game in the local market are up, attendance is up, whether at home or on the road, and the team actually went through a month-long stretch that saw the Clippers post an 11-4 record that included wins over the Lakers and Heat.
Griffin would post a 47-point game, at the time the NBA’s highwater mark until James’ recent 51-point masterpiece in Orlando, would become the first rookie since Allen Iverson in 1996 to have two 40-point games in a season and would set a Clippers franchise record for consecutive double-doubles (27), the most by an NBA rookie in 40 years.
“We don’t know how good he’s going to be, but he’s a phenomenon,’’ Dwyane Wade said during Griffin’s first and only visit to Miami. “When you have as much athletic ability as he has, now he’s starting to understand the game more, he’s starting to see where he can get other opportunities besides just dunking the ball.
“That’s good, he’s aggressive, but now he’s working on his mid-range jumper. The guy is going to be as good as he wants to be. L.A. has a gem.”
And an all-star whose national coming-out party will arrive at next weekend’s showcase, to be held in Los Angeles, no less, where Griffin has become as popular as five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
“I think he’s terrific,’’ the Lakers great and former league MVP said.
What Bryant likes is the way Griffin attacks, initiates contact and welcomes every challenge.
The challenge that awaits Griffin is dealing with the added attention he’s receiving on the court.
During their current road trip, the Clippers made a stop in Orlando, where the Magic threw constant double teams at Griffin.
When L.A. would try to get Griffin touches out of pick and rolls, the Magic was clinical in ball denial.
What resulted were season-low numbers for Griffin and a template in how to contain him.
More importantly, the occasion would serve as a valuable learning experience for Griffin, who got to see up close the game’s most dominant big man in Dwight Howard.
“He is a physical guy, the most athletic big man in the league,” Griffin said of Superman, who would post his fifth 20/20 game in leading the Magic to its win.
“It’s a different type of matchup against him than anyone else in the league. I have to watch the film and look for areas where I can improve. You can learn from any game. I just have to move forward.”