Even for the always smiling joking Timofey Mozgov last season became a drag. He wanted to play and thought he was headed toward more playing time yet down the stretch he was forced to accept that his view of most Nuggets games would be from the bench.

Mozgov got swept up in a numbers game at center. Kosta Koufos was the starter. JaVale McGee got the backup center minutes. Mozgov became the odd man out. He got playing time only after injuries or foul trouble or if there was an unusual matchup against a team with multiple 7-footers.

He played in only 41 games averaging just 8.9 minutes.

It was frustrating enough to drive any player out of town. As a restricted free agent Mozgov could have sought out another NBA team and pushed the Nuggets not to match any other offer he received. Instead he ended up right back in Denver signing a three-year $14 million contract in July.

First-year Nuggets coach Brian Shaw and general manager Tim Connelly had to sell him on coming back.

"Before I signed I talked with Coach (Shaw)" Mozgov said. "He said how he wants to play; he said how important big guys are in the paint. We've got a new coach new GM we got new players so it's kind of a new team with a new version of the game."

And that version involves Mozgov getting major minutes.

The Nuggets traded Koufos in part with an eye toward carving out a bigger role for Mozgov as the top backup behind McGee. Through four preseason games Mozgov has averaged 15.3 minutes per game and leads the Nuggets in blocked shots with an average of 2.5.