Washington Wizards: Who should start, Moritz Wagner or Ian Mahinmi?

Ian Mahinmi has been the Washington Wizards’ starting center in 32 of the 55 games this season. Moritz Wagner has started four. It’s time to change that.

The Washington Wizards, as we all know, began the season talking about “retooling” which is basically just another name for rebuilding without admitting it. Semantics.

With John Wall set to miss the entire season, playoff hopes were nil and younger players were brought in by general manager Tommy Sheppard to try to give us some guys who might take off and become the next star to pair with their all-star back court. So far, results have been tepid but not bad by any means.

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But there’s one position on this Washington Wizards squad that has continued to perplex me, and that’s coach Scott Brooks‘ insistence on starting Ian Mahinmi at the center position over Moritz Wagner. One of those guys is 33 years old, the other is 22, a whole 11 years younger, and this is a rebuilding season no matter what word we want to attach. So why?

A big reason, quite obviously, is that Moritz Wagner missed 25 games due to an ankle injury, which is a long time even for a big man. But in the seven games since he’s returned, he has yet to start a game despite playing more than Ian Mahinmi in all but one of those games.

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He is getting more minutes in those games, but not by much. Wagner has played 126 total minutes since his return and Ian Mahinmi has received 119 minutes. What if we gave half of those Mahinmi minutes to a developing young center that will be here next season and probably beyond, coach Brooks?

If you put their per 36 numbers this season side by side, here’s what it looks like:

Mahinmi 12.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.3 blocks, 50/21/64 shooting splits

Wagner 19.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 1 block, 57/35/80

Outside of the defensive stats, I know who I’m playing. Mahinmi isn’t really great at protecting the paint anyways, aside from the odd block, and even if that weren’t the case he’s still 11 years older and probably on the way out.

It’s time to get a look at Moritz Wagner in the starting lineup, and play him big minutes too while we’re at it. Wagner’s under contract with a team option through 2021-22 with a cap-friendly rookie scale contract while Ian Mahinmi is on one of the worst contracts in the league and is an unrestricted free agent next year.

Perhaps we bring Mahinmi back, but that won’t be necessary if we feel that Moritz Wagner can back up Thomas Bryant capably, but we’ll never know that if Scott Brooks continues to split the minutes at center pretty much down the middle. If this is a year about development, let’s develop some players.

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