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Anzejs Pasecniks thrust into unexpected, large role with the Wizards

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Pasecniks, like Ian Mahinmi, finds himself surprisingly playing a large role.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not often that NBA teams find themselves dealing with a dearth in height.

With Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wagner out, the Washington Wizards had only one healthy center on the roster – Ian Mahinmi, who they didn’t expect to play at all this season.

Mahinmi, surprisingly, is having his most productive season since he arrived in Washington three years ago, averaging roughly 14 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per-36 minutes.

If Mahinmi wasn’t a fouling machine – he averages 6.5 fouls per-36 minutes – the Wizards might be able to get away with playing, say, Davis Bertans at the five in spurts, but Mahinmi has been incapable of playing heavy minutes without fouling out.

The Wizards called for reinforcement – Anzejs Pasecniks, the 7-foot-1 center the team signed to a two-way contract from the Go-Go after Bryant and Wagner became sidelined.

Pasecniks finds himself in a unique situation.

At 24, he’s a relatively-older rookie, and he’s played 21 minutes per game in the three appearances he’s made for the Wizards – a considerably large role that, similar to Mahinmi, the Wizards did not expect him to play this season.

After just three games, it’s obviously too early to make conclusions about Pasecniks. He’s played just 64 NBA minutes — and, despite having a familiarity with fellow Latvian Bertans, there’s going to be a number of factors involved in his struggles, his unfamiliarity with the team and rookie jitters being just a few.

Nevertheless, Pasecniks did show — again, in very limited time — what he’s capable of in his first few games in Washington.

At 7-foot-1, he fills the height need in Washington — he’s a willing rim-protector (unlike Wagner, who prefers to draw charges) and isn’t afraid of contesting shots, and putting himself at risk of committing fouls. He’s yet to register a block, but with his sheer size and length, he’s an intimidating figure in the paint.

Pasecniks also showed a surprising passing ability. There were multiple possessions in the first two games when he got the ball, faced up, and found a cutting teammate at the basket. He’s confident enough to throw bounce passes in traffic, which makes his struggles finishing at the basket somewhat confusing.

In his first two games, Pasecniks made just 3 of his 10 shots, and missed point-blank attempts under the rim without much resistance. There have been multiple instances where he was within dunking distance, but chose to lay the ball up instead, and it resulted in missed bunnies.

Washington’s front office has done a solid job unearthing gems these past few seasons, especially Bryant and Wagner. That’s not to say Pasecniks will join them in the group, but there’s reason to be optimistic. You can’t teach his size — and the Wizards desperately need that right now. Bryant and Wagner are still out, so Pasecniks will continue to get opportunities — and with that time, he should get the jitters out.

Pasecniks looked more comfortable on Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers, where he scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He was outmatched against Joel Embiid, who took advantage of his size against Pasecniks, but seemed more confident with the ball in his hands.

Washington will continue to lean on Pasecniks, especially now that Bertans has joined the injured list. The team seemed all set with young bigs in Bryant and Wagner, but Pasecniks has an opportunity to turn an unfortunate injury situation the team has been facing into a positive.