Two months into the 2019-2020 NBA season many Wizards fans were clamoring for Moritz Wagner to supplant Thomas Bryant as the starting center. By the end of the season, those same fans wondered if Wagner had a long-term future with the team. After the first quarter of the team’s 97-86 preseason loss to Detroit, some of those same tweets started popping up.
Personally, I wondered what the addition of Robin Lopez meant for Wagner’s role for the 2020-2021 season. Wagner was the first big-man off the bench in the first preseason game and looked to be back to his early 2019 form, scoring 13 points and grabbing 7 rebounds.
His play was a bit of a mixed bag in the second preseason game but he finished with 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. He took a charge, of course. His perimeter shot wasn’t falling and he missed some rotations defensively but the entire team looked out of sync and I’m inclined to give him a pass on that. I thought his defense and rebounding improved as the night went on. Like many young players, consistency is key for Wagner.
Wagner joined the Bleav in Wizards podcast after the first preseason game to talk about what he worked on in the offseason and how he can be more consistent this season. Wagner also talked about the mentorship role Lopez has taken and the intensity Russell Westbrook has brought.
For me, the highlight of the interview was when I asked Wagner about the team’s offense and he immediately changed the subject to the team’s defensive struggles last season. He analyzed what he can do better and how he’s learning to be a better defender.
As a major critic of the team’s defense under coach Scott Brooks, it was refreshing to hear a player taking personal responsibility for his performance. I don’t expect Wagner to turn into a Rudy Gobert-caliber defender this season but it’s encouraging to hear his self-awareness and recognition of the need for improvement.
I’ve been critical of a few of the offseason signings but I give Tommy Sheppard credit for sticking to his guns (too soon to make a gun reference on a Wizards blog?) when it comes to filling the roster with high-character guys. Wagner seems to fit that mold and judging from the way he talks about his teammates he would probably say the same thing about many, if not all, of them.
Prior to getting to the Wagner interview, Larry Hughes and I discussed the first preseason game and the debut of Deni Avdija. Hughes always preaches the importance of understanding and playing with NBA pace, and he liked what he saw from Avdija in that regard. We assessed the performance the major contributors and broke down some of Brooks’ weirder lineups.
Hughes hammered home a point that many in the Wizards’ fanbase would wholeheartedly agree with: the team needs a defensive anchor. He wants to see the team prioritize defensive effort and accountability. We also discussed Rui Hachimura’s potential to grow into an impact player on that end of the floor.
First impressions of Avdija - 1:00
The importance of not overvaluing preseason results and performances - 2:00
Avdija’s playmaking for himself and others is rare - 3:00
How seriously young players take the preseason compared to vets - 4:45
Scott Brooks suggesting Avdija is likely to start at the 3 says as much about the other wings as it does Avdija - 7:30
Troy Brown Jr.’s slow start against Brooklyn - 9:30
Coaches base lineups more practice and workouts than one preseason game - 10:30
Guys who look like All-Stars in practice but can’t bring it during games - 11:30
Hachimura’s development and shot selection - 14:00
The Wizards need a defensive anchor, but who? Hachimura? - 15:45
Wagner’s performance against Brooklyn - 18:00
Scott Brooks more whimsical lineups (e.g.: Winston/Mathews/Bonga/Wagner/Lopez) - 21:30
What it’s like to actually have to guard Kevin Durant - 24:00
Questioning the announcement that Westbrook won’t play the second game of back-to-backs - 26:00
The culture in Houston that made Westbrook want out - 28:30
Moe Wagner joins the show - 33:00
Wagner’s offseason and consistency - 34:30
His struggles after returning from injury - 38:30
A different buzz around this year’s team and Westbrook as a teammate - 40:00
How the international make-up of the team and those different perspectives can help them on the court - 42:30
The Wizards and Wagner need to improve defensively - 43:30
Dealing with COVID-19, testing, and travel - 48:30
Having a brother who is also an NBA prospect - 50:00
What he’s binge-watching these days - 52:00