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2019-20 Wizards player evaluations: Moritz Wagner remains a mystery after his first season in D.C.

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The Washington Wizards center put up career-highs, but a disappointing finish to his 2019-20 season leaves his future in D.C. uncertain.

Washington Wizards v New Orleans Pelicans
Moritz Wagner had a promising start but a disappointing finish in his first season for the Washington Wizards.
Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Moritz Wagner is (still) a big conundrum after completing his second NBA season. And I don’t mean the famous Moritz Wagner, the renowned German explorer. The Wizards player is whom I’m writing about here.

As so many other players (Issac Bonga, Johnathan Williams, Jemerrio Jones) that suited up for the Wizards these last couple years, he was once a Laker. But as they say since Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson took over in L.A., “Once a Laker, always a Wizard.”

Wagner is fondly known as Moe from his Michigan years. There were high expectations for him based on NCAA Finals run with Michigan, and a late first round pick seemed appropriate at the time. Unfortunately, he landed on a team that had little patience for development and he was shipped as a salary filler in the trade to acquire Anthony Davis.

Doubly unfortunate for Wagner, he got traded to Washington. In D.C. he found a team with a non-coherent development strategy that did not allow him to carve a solid NBA rotation role. While for some portions of the season Scott Brooks imagined he was chasing the 8th seed and played veterans, in others he was throwing youngsters on the floor with a dysfunctional defensive scheme.

Wagner clearly slipped through the cracks here.

(Potential) floor spacing & charges: the argument for

Per our analytics guru, Kevin Broom, Wagner is an elite charge-drawer (I never heard this term before, but there it is). He led the league with 1.70 charges drawn per 48 minutes and was 4th in total charges drawn (27).

(Makes me think of another Wizards (#12 instead of #21) that took pride in that department until being shipped unceremoniously to Phoenix by Ernie and Tommy. I’m not saying Wagner will be traded, but it does seem likely.)

Wagner can also shoot from deep although his accuracy in the NBA hasn’t matched what he did in college.

At Michigan he averaged better than 39% on threes in his sophomore and junior years. But then his accuracy (and volume) took a hit in the NBA: about 28% in his first season, and 31% this past year (both years on 1.8 attempts/game). This is an improvement, but still far from NBA level for a player in his role (stretch 4 or backup 5).

But there are other positives in the shooting department. Wagner is a solid FT shooter at over 82% (for comparison, that’s better than Bradley Beal at the same point in his career). A lot of times, there is correlation between free throw shooting and three-point shooting, and Wagner is still young. Moreover, what I find impressive is that he improved his FT shooting in the NBA — he was a 70% FT shooter at Michigan. This does signify he is a hard worker, at least in my eyes.

When you look at Wagner’s FG% things look better: he’s shooting 54.5% compared to 41.5% in his rookie year.

Fouling, turnovers: the argument against

As the Wizards defense this year was historically bad, it may be harder to put in perspective the following stats, but they do raise red flags. According to Kevin Broom,

Fouling is a BIG issue with Wagner. He committed 8.5 fouls per 100 team possessions — 2nd most in the league among players with at least 500 minutes.

Turnovers are also a problem. He was at 3.7 per 100 team possessions, 8th highest in the league among players with at least 500 minutes.

I didn’t run the numbers when Wagner did not share the floor with IT, but it probably is worth doing to get a more effective measurement of just how much these issues are big.

Conclusion

Inconclusive.

It’s great Tommy Sheppard brought him here (and reportedly also for draft workouts in 2018) but it’s unfortunate his development has not been too visible.

Since Wagner has another year on his contract, I don’t see him going anywhere in the near future as his trade value has plummeted. But he could potentially be part of a larger draft day trade as his salary is non-negligible. There is no doubt in my mind that he can be a solid rotation NBA player, but I have also serious doubts he can develop to that role in D.C. given the limitations and focus of Brooks.