The Washington Wizards are coming off an impressive 131-116 win over Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Much of that has to do with the strong play of the second-year pro out of Michigan, Moe Wagner.
Against one of the best centers in the league, Wagner put up a career performance of 30 points and 15 rebounds on 13-15 shooting, including 4-4 from three-point range. Oh yeah, and he did it in just 25 minutes off the bench.
According to ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau, Wagner is the first player in NBA history to finish with 30 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 85% from the field off the bench. Yes, that stat is oddly specific. But I’d argue he had a pretty solid game, don’t you think?
But looking past the box score of this game, Moe Wagner has impressed on the court in many other ways. He is averaging 12.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg in just 18.5 minutes per game, a number that most certainly will rise given how he has played so far this season.
His play on defense has been arguably more important than his offensive contributions so far. This team has plenty of scorers and lacks defense. The defense Wagner has been able to provide has been a pleasant surprise so far, and it has been much needed. Wagner leads the entire NBA in charges drawn, with 11 in 10 games, forcing turnovers and making players think twice about driving into the lane. He also is averaging over a block per game in his limited 18.5 minutes per game.
The numbers show just how strong Wagner has been on defense, even beyond the charges taken. Wagner is fourth in the NBA in net rating, at +16.0 when he is on the floor. While he is off the court, the Wizards have a -13.3 net rating. Much of this has to do with the energy he has brought on the defensive end. He provides a ton of energy on the offensive end like teammate Thomas Bryant.
Where he has the head up on Bryant, however, is using that energy to affect the defensive end. With short point guards in Isaiah Thomas (5’9) and Ish Smith (6’0), having a big man that can make up for their lack of size in the pick and roll is vital. Bryant has struggled in that area. Wagner has excelled in it, and has provided a nice change of pace off the bench. The Wizards have often gone to a zone defense to hide their point guards lack of size. Wagner has outplayed Bryant in the zone by a pretty wide margin as well.
Though it is still early in the season, I think it is already safe to say that the Wizards new general manager Tommy Sheppard deserves praise for bringing Wagner in, essentially for free. Sheppard was able to take advantage of the Los Angeles Lakers, as they were in salary dump mode in an attempt to bring in both Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards received Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and a 2022 second round pick from the Lakers in a three-team deal with the Pelicans, only sending cash to New Orleans in the deal.
The Wizards nabbed Thomas Bryant off of waivers from the Lakers last season, and seemingly pulled off yet another big-man heist from the team this season with Wagner. The Lakers are doing just fine at the five position right now with Anthony Davis playing some center, Dwight Howard’s resurgence, and JaVale McGee. But missing out on Kawhi Leonard may make the sting of Wagner’s recent play hurt even more.
Sheppard was given next to nothing to work with this off-season, with limited cap space and no second round picks until 2021, and this deal was perfect for the Wizards to make: A low risk, high reward type of deal for young players on light contracts, and picked up a future second rounder in the process. The Wizards stand at just 3-7 so far, but wins were not expected with this young roster. The development of Wagner is one of the many signs that indicate Sheppard has the team in the right direction, and he deserves the shine after sitting in Ernie Grunfeld’s shadow, waiting for his opportunity for 17 years.