Washington Wizards: What to make of Mortiz Wagner

Washington Wizards Moritz Wagner (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards Moritz Wagner (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

On the one hand, the Washington Wizards have a nice scoring piece off the bench in Moritz Wagner. On the other hand, they have a liability.

We are eight games into the NBA regular season, and Mortiz Wagner has already fouled out twice. Once against the Dallas Mavericks to start the season. Then again against the Indiana Pacers. In both contests, Wagner played less than 17 minutes.

It’s been an up and down start to Wagner’s Washington Wizards career. The former 25th pick from the 2018 NBA Draft came over from the Los Angeles Lakers via trade this summer with Isaac Bonga. Despite Bonga getting the starting minutes through the first few games, Wagner is the former Laker that the Wizards are most excited about.

With Jordan McRae, Troy Brown, and C.J. Miles all now healthy, expect Bonga’s minutes to slip. We might see Wagner’s slip too if he keeps making some of his early-season mistakes.

Using All of His Fouls

Mostly, it’s foul trouble that’s been the issue for Moritz Wagner. Wagner 3.9 fouls per game rank 13th in the NBA, per Basketball-Reference. It’s the highest average among players playing less than 20 minutes per game. Wagner racks up all those fouls in just 17.8 minutes per game.

Among all NBA players, Wagner averages the fourth most personal fouls per 36 minutes with 7.9. Of course, you have six fouls for a reason. At least that’s the saying. But it would help if Wagner would use them a bit more judiciously. He has committed less than four fouls just twice through the first eight games.

As a team, the Wizards are giving up 25 free throw attempts per game.

Turnover Troubles

Turnovers are also hurting Wagner, although they don’t look as bad. He’s ranked 57th overall with 2.4 turnovers per game. But similarly to his foul trouble, Wagner is turning the ball over with much more frequency than the rest of the league. Of the 56 players averaging more turnovers per game than Wagner, none are averaging less than 20 minutes per game. The next closest player on that list in terms of minutes per game is Wagner’s teammate Isaiah Thomas. IT plays about five more minutes per game than Wagner does.

If you look at Wagner’s per 36 minutes, things get even bleaker. He ranks eighth in turnovers per 36. The turnover issue is highlighted further if you look at the few who are turning it over more than Moe.

James Harden, Ja Morant, Derrick Rose, Trae Young, and Luka Doncic all average more turnovers per 36 than Wagner, but they’re all ball handlers. Fast-paced offenses are going to rack up turnovers, it’s an unfortunate byproduct of running and gunning offenses. And their primary pace pushing point guards are going to suffer in the turnover column. So to a degree, these names aren’t shockers at the top. But Wagner isn’t ball handling, and he isn’t pushing a fast pace, which makes his turnovers much less excusable. Especially when they come via multiple three-second violations.

More Good than Bad

If Wagner keeps this play up, it’ll be tough to justify keeping him on the floor, even with the second unit. But there are reasons to be excited about the 22-year-old center who has still yet to play in 82 total NBA games. The on/off numbers (per Basketball-Reference) suggest that the Wizards are better with Wagner on the court.

Despite his foul and turnover troubles, Wagner’s been a solid contributor off the bench on the offensive end. He had a positive single-game plus-minus in each of the Wizards’ first six games. Plus, he leads the Wizards in field goal percentage and is exceptionally efficient around the rim, averaging a team-high 70.3 percent on two-point attempts. Wagner can stretch the floor. He’s currently shooting 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, but he knows what works best.

Per NBA.com, 67.3 percent of Wager’s shots are coming from inside the arc, and the two-pointer is responsible for over half of his 10.8 points per game. Even as a capable shooter shooting at a high percentage,  he’s not heaving it from deep that often. However, Wagner simply being a threat helps open things up and has created a killer duo with Davis Bertans off the bench. The two have the team’s top effective field goal percentages, and the Wizards second-unit has become one of the NBA’s best.

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For now, Wagner’s offensive bursts off the bench have outweighed his mistakes in his limited minutes. The Wizards, though, seem to be fine on offense. They have a top-ten scoring offense. They need some help on defense, though. On that end, they’re in the bottom ten.

No one is asking or expecting, Wagner to stop fouling completely, or to handle the ball with Brinks truck-level security. But he’s an effective and valuable piece for the Wizards in small doses. If he can get a handle on some of these silly turnovers and fouls, he could be an even better piece with a bigger role.