March 15, 2019, 6:00 pm
Happy Friday Hoop Ballers and welcome to another installment of our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be deep diving into German forward/center Moritz (Mo) Wagner, a potential down-the-road fantasy contributor for the Lakers in what looks like a lost season for the organization.
Contrary to their free agency acquisitions and trades in the last couple years, the Lakers have an excellent track record of picking up ready-to-contribute guys in the draft classes of recent years from Kyle Kuzma to Josh Hart, Ivica Zubac, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., all of them drafted outside the top 25. And that trend continued this past summer with the selection of University of Michigan junior Moritz Wagner with the 25th pick in the first round, after he posted per-40-minute stats of 19.9 points, 8.6 boards and 1.5 steals while shooting 38.5 percent from distance in three years in the Big Ten Conference.
Wagner started his basketball career in the youth ranks of German powerhouse Alba Berlin and opted to play at the college level, turning down multiple offers to go professional. After a disappointing freshman season where he had to adjust to the level of physicality and to life in US, he had back-to-back tremendous seasons, leading the Wolverines to the NCAA championship game last year as their go-to scorer and leader, averaging 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. The Lakers were glad to see him fall all the way down to #25 as the kind of offensive production he brings to the table is rarely found in that range, even though his game has some gaping holes that need to be addressed before he becomes a rotation piece.
Strong Summer League but an Unfortunate Start
The Lakers were focused on improving their shooting through the draft, as validated by the selections of Wagner and Svi Mykhailiuk, but neither was expected to have a major role for the team after the July acquisition of LeBron James. Still, the German big raised a lot of eyebrows during Summer League as he showed to be a lot more athletic than he seemed at Michigan, running the court exceptionally well and making his presence felt on the defensive side as well.
It was expected that he could stretch the floor and finish around the basket while his energy and intensity made him look like a guy LeBron would probably want to play with, but what came out as a big surprise were the defensive numbers of 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in five games. Unfortunately, Wagner injured his left ankle and his left knee at the same game with an MRI revealing a left knee contusion that forced him to miss the entire preseason and not make his NBA debut until the middle of November, with him clearly being out of the rotation after the Lakers signed Tyson Chandler to supplement their frontcourt depth.
The Lakers’ Lack of Shooting
The Lakers ranked second to last in 3-point shooting last year and clearly felt that it was something that needed to be addressed but even after drafting Mo and Svi, they had only three players shooting above 37 percent from behind the arc (Josh Hart, KCP and Brandon Ingram). Wagner’s postponed season debut further diminished their ability to spread the floor, as the Lakers opted to play Tyson Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and occasionally LeBron as the backup center while the team transitioned into win-now mode, failing to even contemplate switching to their younger, more energetic rookie.
Wagner is a prototypical pick-and-pop big man possessing a great combination of size and skill and he is a crafty scorer who can get open looks and get creative both around the rim and on the perimeter. His stroke is almost flawless while the only paradox is that, surprisingly, he struggled with his free throw throw shooting while in college, but I expect his percentage to rise with more experience and exposure.
The German kid brings a ton of energy and hustle to the court while his pick-and-roll game can unlock many offensive options for the Lakers as he has a quick and beautiful stroke behind the 3-point line, he can roll to the basket and finish strong and is an underrated passer with the ability to make the right play out of a double-team. This was very well known coming out of college where Wagner was an elite spot-up shooter, ranking in the 95th percentile amongst all spot-up shooters in the NCAA, tallying an impressive 1.27 points per possession in those situations. Look at Mason Plumlee being late on the switch as Wagner releases a beautiful shot on the side action with Rajon Rondo.
His shooting ability gives the Lakers completely different options on the offensive side of the ball compared to JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler (and Ivica Zubac until recently) but these schemes have not been explored that often by the Lakers coaching staff and it’s still unclear whether the team wants to experiment with their rookie for the remaining 14 games. Here is a rare occasion from last week where Wagner operates as the center and the Lakers run their offense through him, allowing him to post Kyrie Irving and make the pass to a cutting LeBron James as Al Horford is closing in with help defense.
Wagner is equally effective when teams close-out on him on the 3-point line, where he shows off his ball handling and passing ability while attacking the rim with an array of moves that are tough to defend. He is patient inside the paint with a variety of post moves, he can face up with decent handles and has a really good first step for his size, often creating mismatches with his presence. Look at the deadly spin move he puts on Georges Niang before finishing with the nice backboard touch.
On top of everything else, Wagner also runs the floor very well in transition, creating a lot of opportunities for himself and his teammates and he really has all the intangibles that make him a keeper due to a very nice feel for the game, a lot of determination and no fear whatsoever.
The Positional Challenge
While Wagner had a very successful career at the college level there were clearly some major questions about the transition of his game to the pros. Defenders in the NBA are stronger, quicker and longer and even though the rookie has been able to use his agility to finish around the rim, he often gets too comfortable and finds himself beaten by lesser opponents. Look at him forcing the action against Gordon Hayward and managing to get blocked (!) deep down in the post.
These are the plays that make you wonder about his long term fit in the league as many scouts believed he could easily be neutralized to merely a stretch big at the next level. The Lakers have used him mostly as a power forward, in a Kelly Olynyk type of role, where he is being deployed as a deadly shooter around the perimeter. That move combined with the lack of size make him an average rebounder at best for a 6’11” guy, while he struggles with fouling against centers. He’s been unable to hold his ground with the likes of players like Gorgui Dieng and Dragan Bender in recent weeks. And at a game against the Nuggets he was helpless against Nikola Jokic, who used all the tricks in his bag to draw repeated fouls on the struggling rookie.
Wagner is not an ideal rim protector, nor athletic or quick enough to defend modern power forwards. That often limits his impact on the court and makes him a liability on the defensive side where opponents will attack him relentlessly. There are areas where he needs to put some work as adding lower-body strength, for example, will help him avoid getting overpowered in the post.
The coaching staff also needs to do a better job at hiding his weaknesses and teaching him how to properly use verticality. The rookie is a solid team defender who is willing to hustle on help rotations and moves fairly well laterally so not everything is bad, and if the Lakers see him as an integral part of their future they should pair him with a versatile frontcourt player in order to be part of an adequate team defense.
Luke Walton’s Defensive Scheme
The Lakers went after JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler this offseason, mainly due to their desire to install a mobile rim protector who could drop back while defending the pick-and-roll action. Each time a screen is set, the big man almost always drops back and isn’t looking to switch or hedge as soon as the pick is set. Instead, the center will slowly backpedal towards the rim, giving the perimeter guy enough time to recover. By doing this the Lakers, just like the Spurs, are able to avoid finding themselves in bad mismatches while putting the pressure to their rim protector in order to defend the paint effectively.
McGee has been somehow successful at it, averaging 1.9 blocks per game, but he is not a long term answer. He lacks the energy and commitment to remain consistent at all times and the Lakers are surrendering 20.0 points in the paint, the fifth-worst in the league this year.
Wagner is also not the answer to that traditional scheme and his pick-and-roll defense is the main concern every time he plays as the center. The rookie has the right motor, and he usually knows where he has to be to cover for the lost ground, which isn’t always the case for young bigs, but the Lakers prefer to drop their big back to the rim, which doesn’t suit Wagner’s strengths as he isn’t much of a leaper and he can’t really put pressure on attacking bigs or guards who go right at him. When the Lakers visited the Nets back in December, Kenny Atkinson repeatedly went after him by spreading the floor and allowing Spencer Dinwiddie to run a quick action from the top of the key that left the German kid on the wrong side and backpedaling on back-to-back possessions.
And while not a great athlete, in college Wagner showed the ability to hold his own when isolated on the perimeter against guards thanks to quick hands that allow him to strip the ball but he struggles mighty with rookie mistakes and silly fouls. Here is Ryan Arcidiacono attacking him and gaining a trip to the free throw line after a simple pump fake.
The Lakers Have to Develop Him
Other than the Anthony Davis fiasco, the Lakers are in the midst of some big-market politics as they have been playing Mike Muscala recently in their effort to fight the public perception about how bad the Zubac trade was. Muscala has usually been a defensive liability and he was borderline unplayable with the Sixers this year so it’s really mind-boggling why the team decided to trade for him after drafting Wagner last summer but at the same time, this has been the pattern all along. Sign Rajon Rondo to challenge Lonzo Ball, Michael Beasley to go against Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma in practice and Lance Stephenson to fight with Josh Hart for backup minutes.
The modern NBA is trending towards a five-out formation, where all five players on the court are capable of stretching the floor with deep shooting. Wagner fits that mold but he needs to put the work on the defensive side of the ball where he has been exposed many times this year. His offensive versatility translates very well to the NBA based on the sample so far, so he should flourish whether that’s with the Lakers or another franchise and Wagner is one of the youngsters I will be keeping an eye on in the upcoming years.
Hope you enjoyed learning more about another international gem of our league and let’s see if he can continue getting minutes now that the Lakers are almost mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Hope you guys are still playing in your league’s playoffs, so make sure you stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors by visiting our website and by following our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of March 15th.
June 20, 2019, 12:51 pmTJ Warren - F - Phoenix Suns
SportsNet New York's Ian Begley is reporting the Mavs are among teams interested in acquiring the Suns' T.J. Warren via trade.
Begley also reports the Suns are open to moving both Warren and Josh Jackson. Both Warren and Jackson have been recently included in trade rumors over the past few weeks, so there is some traction to the reports from several outlets. With many young assets and teams kicking the tires, it won't be surprising if the Suns re-tool a little bit.
Source: Ian Begley on Twitter
June 20, 2019, 12:26 pmJahlil Okafor - C - New Orleans Pelicans
ESPN's Malika Andrews is reporting the Pelicans will exercise Jahlil Okafor's team option for the 2019-2020 season.
Okafor is due just $1.7 million next season, so this was an easy call. According to Andrews, the Pels staff is impressed by Okafor's work ethic and progress on defense. David Griffin could be in the middle of rebuilding something special in New Orleans. With so many assets, they are just getting started.
Source: Malika Andrews on Twitter
June 20, 2019, 12:16 pmAron Baynes - F/C - Boston Celtics
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Celtics are actively shopping Aron Baynes.
Baynes recently exercised his $5.9 million player option for the 2019-2020 season, but the Celtics would like to open up more cap space. As the Celtics are rumored to lose Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency, they need more money to play with when June 30th rolls around to kick off free agency. Baynes is a solid center off the bench and relatively cheap, so expect a move in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 20, 2019, 12:09 pmStephen Curry - Team - Golden State Warriors
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Warriors are sending $1.3 million in cash and a 2024 second-rounder to the Hawks in exchange for the No. 41 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
With a team as cap-strapped (especially if KD stays) as the Warriors, second-rounders become very important. Whoever the Warriors draft could potentially become a rotational player. As we saw in the NBA Finals, the Warriors could use some depth and this player could see significant minutes depending on the circumstances. The Warriors have been very good with late selections, so it will be interesting to see what player they chase with the pick.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 20, 2019, 12:01 amAaron Holiday - G - Indiana Pacers
Aaron Holiday is in demand when the Pacers are discussing trades with other teams prior to Thursday's draft.
Holiday is one of the five players under contract for the Pacers that averaged over 10 minutes per game last season, so he is definitely one of the primary assets on their roster. We could see Holiday on another team come Thursday night or sometime during this offseason as the Pacers could look to make a home run move.
June 19, 2019, 11:07 pmJon Leuer - F - Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have agreed to give the Bucks Jon Leuer for Tony Snell and the 30th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft on Wednesday night.
The Pistons now own two picks in the first round, but they take on Tony Snell's contract for this season and next season. The Pistons are stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference right now, so they are trying to acquire picks hoping that they can find a gem that will lift their franchise.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 11:02 pmTony Snell - G - Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have agreed to trade Tony Snell to the Pistons for Jon Leuer on Wednesday night.
The Pistons will also receive the 30th pick in the first round of Thursday’s draft. The Bucks made it clear that they were trying to trade Snell and Ersan Ilyasova, so they have accomplished half of their goal. The Bucks save $4 million in salary this season and no longer have Snell’s $12 million on the books for the 2020-21 season.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 10:14 pmR.J Barrett - G - College
The New Orleans Pelicans are looking to assemble a package to get themselves the 2nd overall pick in the draft so that they can draft R.J Barrett before the Knicks can according to Peter Vecsey of the New York Post.
This potential deal would hinge on convincing the Grizzlies to pass up on Ja Morant, a seemingly unlikely move seeing how they just traded Mike Conley with no PG coming back in return. With all the assets in their arsenal it’s certainly feasible that the Pelicans could find a way to make this work, but as of now it seems like a steep mountain to overcome.
Source: Peter Vecsey on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 8:05 pmRomeo Langford - G - College
Romeo Langford said that his right thumb surgery recovery is ‘going good’ and that he expects to be ready to go for Summer League.
The injury was never thought of being anything serious so this is right about where his recovery should be expected. Following a rough shooting season, the 19 year old guard has seen his draft value fluctuate a good amount since the beginning of the year, going from a sure-fire top 10 pick to floating around as a mid-first rounder. Still, he possesses solid two-way potential and could see some early playing time depending on the situation he lands in.
Source: Scott Agness on Twitter
June 19, 2019, 7:54 pmDejounte Murray - G - San Antonio Spurs
Meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Dejounte Murray said he has begun 4-on-4 scrimmages and expressed confidence that he will be ready for training camp.
Murray seems to be on course to meet the timetable he was hit with after tearing his ACL a year ago. The young guard still figures to play a prominent role with the Spurs when he is able to suit up and should still carry some of that luster of fantasy potential that he carried at the beginning of last season. We'd like to see how he looks in the preseason before sounding off the hype alarms again but he could be a productive, top-70 type of guy once he returns to full speed.
Source: San Antonio Express-News