I should have started this doppelgänger series with Moritz Wagner. After all, he’s German and it’s a compound German word, which mushes together doppel (meaning double) and gänger (meaning walker or goer). It’s entirely fitting that the Doppelgänger Machine produced the perfect comp for Wagner.
Wagner’s game is something like that — at least so far in his career — the mushing together of some NBA-level skills (mostly shooting and finishing) with out of control fouling and turnovers. Mix in irrational confidence in his own abilities and an odd personality that takes pleasure in annoying others.
Yes, there are great German words for these attributes. Übermütig is “over brave”. Nervensäge translates literally to “nerves saw,” which is damn a good word for Wagner and the top player on his “similars” list.
The Statistical Doppelgänger Machine works by comparing a player’s performance across 14 different categories that include age, playing time, pace-neutral box score stats and scores from my PPA metric. All that’s rolled up into a single score that (in theory) provides a list of NBA players since 1977-78 with similar production at a similar age.
Here are Wagner’s comps:
- Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics, age 22 — Annoying guy who shoots pretty well and commits lots of fouls and turnovers. Übermütig? Yep. Nervensäge? You bet. I feel like the machine nailed this one.
- Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns, 22 — Mediocre player (at best) who looks just good enough when playing to make people think he’s better than he is.
- Chris Wilcox, Los Angeles Clippers, 22 — My initial reaction was that Wilcox was a guy who didn’t last and that maybe that wasn’t the best sign for Wagner. Then I checked and saw that Wilcox played 11 NBA seasons.
- Danny Schayes, Utah Jazz, 22 — Thoroughly unimpressive through his first seven seasons, but he stuck around because he was big, it was the 80s, and his dad was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. Then he abruptly turned in four consecutive average or better seasons, starting with a 154 PPA at age 28.
- Antoine Carr, Atlanta Hawks, 23 — This one struck me as strange because Carr was on the more athletic side of things than Wagner. Carr shot poorly, but — like Wagner — committed lots of fouls and turnovers. Carr’s PPA stayed mostly in the 60s until he got to Sacramento at 28. He had three seasons around league average and somehow played until he was 38.
- Mehmet Okur, Detroit Pistons, 23 — Easily the best player on this list, and if Wagner gets to this level the Wizards would bring cake to the practice floor. A tap of the brakes, though. While Okur was a good player (seven consecutive seasons with a 125 or better PPA), and he did make an All-Star team, he was probably a bit overrated. Still, the Wizards would be happy if Wagner turned out this good.
- Rick Fox, Boston Celtics, 22 — How does a SF get mixed in with centers? Keep in mind, this was 1991-92 when SFs didn’t need to be three-point shooters. Fox’s three-point attempt rate per possession was about half that of Wagner’s. He also didn’t get nearly the rebounds Wagner did (again, not surprising for a wing — Wagner’s rebounding was pretty meh for a center). But the two get together over fouls and turnovers.
- Rodney Rogers, Denver Nuggets, 22 — Like many of Wagner’s comps, Rogers had longevity to go with uneven and unspectacular play. Rogers lasted 12 seasons while providing decent but usually a bit below average play. He had two average seasons — at 23 and 28.
- Phil Hubbard, Detroit Pistons, 23 — Hubbard made it 10 seasons playing mostly below average basketball. He peaked at a 110 PPA at 28. He went on to become an assistant coach on Eddie Jordan’s staff with the Wizards. Unlike Wagner, Hubbard was not annoying — truly one of the nicest people I met when I was going to games on press pass.
- James Bailey, New Jersey Nets, 24 — I have no recollection of Bailey, but Basketball-Reference assures me he actually existed. He seems to be one of those 80s PFs who would have to play center today because they couldn’t shoot. What got him on Wagner’s comp list? You guessed it — rampant fouls and turnovers.
Scrolling down the list of similars doesn’t yield more promising names. Like the players above, they’re guys who made sorta decent backups but never clawed their way much above average. Names like:
- Mike Sweetney
- Craig Smith
- Michael Doleac
- Jonathan Bender
- Bison Dele
- J.R. Reid
- Vitaly Potapenko
- Jon Koncak
- Zan Tabak
The top comp from Wizards/Bullets history is a 21-year old Andray Blatche. That, by the way was Blatche’s third season, who the Wizards drafted in the second round straight out of high school. He would get four more years in Washington and another two in Brooklyn.
Speaking of annoying, things got so bad with Blatche that Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis — who had privately gloated about how clever they were to sign Blatche to an under-market contract extension — used the amnesty clause to release Blatche before the extension had even begun. They paid him $23 million to go away.
In his nine seasons, Blatche managed four that were average or better, two in Washington (I’m counting a 99 PPA in 2009-10) and two in Brooklyn. Bizarrely, despite being a nervensäge, the Wizards actually got good value from Blatche as a second round selection.
The overall results of Wagner’s trip through the machine are thoroughly unsurprising. He was a late first round pick who — at least according to my pre-draft analysis — was probably drafted 20-30 picks too early. In theory, he could work crazy hard, “get it” and rise to the level of Okur, who was a good player for seven years and became an All-Star.
More likely, he’ll work hard, “get it” and become a not terrible backup center who sticks around the league for 10-12 years and ends up with $50-60 million in career earnings, like Olynyk.
Who’s next through the Doppelgänger Machine?
This poll is closed