Believe it or not but the Washington Wizards are on a winning streak. Okay, it has only been two games. After spoiling John Wall’s return to DC on Monday and embarrassing the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Washington improved to an even 5-5 in their past 10 games. A catalyst in this upward trend is the decision to insert Moritz Wagner into the starting lineup.
On paper, Wagner represents only a slight improvement in scoring and rebounding in relation to the center depth chart. Alex Len and Robin Lopez previously split starting duties until Sunday’s contest against Boston. By expanding Wagner’s role, Head Coach Scott Brooks intended to move a more versatile presence into his rotation. Wagner battles opposing centers on the block and is capable of applying pressure on pick and roll ball handlers at the top of the key. Additionally, he is, dare I say, Kyle Lowry-Esque at putting his body on the line to take a charge.
It is no mystery that the Wizards are starved for more competent defensive play. They currently stand 26th among 30 teams in efficiency on that side of the floor. Wagner may lack the rim-deterring verticality of Rudy Gobert or the Swiss-Army Knife flexibility of Bam Adebayo, but he is an elite irritant who brings about the kind of tenacity from a bygone era. While he may not pass the eye test of those aforementioned centers, his hustle in tandem with an elite true shooting percentage (67.2 percent) bears a striking resemblance to an old school Bill Laimbeer kind of ‘big.’ Seriously, one look at that bumper-car-shaped mouthguard and it is clear that this dude is ready for war.
Giannis headbutted Mo Wagner and got ejected 😳 pic.twitter.com/vmRJuKqF5v— ESPN (@espn) August 12, 2020
Wagner vs. Jokic on Wednesday Night
Platitudes aside, however, the Celtics and Rockets started average centers in the Wizards’ recent back-to-back set of games. Let us not forget that Daniel Theis and a chalk-outline of Demarcus Cousins are not torching anyone. On Wednesday, Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets stroll into town. While he may be on the second end of a back-to-back, that Big Boy from Serbia is a legit MVP candidate this season with averages of 27 points and 56 percent shooting per game.
Whether he is below the block, at the nail, or above the break, Jokic presents a nightmare for defenses. Besides, even a double-team is known to be a tricky proposition. Without varying weakside help, with his nine assists per game, Jokic will pick you apart.
Waxing poetic about Wagner’s virtues is easy to do after a pair of wins. On one hand, he fought Joel Embiid better than anyone on the Wizards in the first game of the season. Wagner posted the best plus/minus among Wizards reserves against Philadelphia. However, Jokic is coming off a 43 point outing in a loss against the Celtics last night. Furthermore, Denver head coach Mike Malone called out his team following the defeat. After all, these returning Western Conference finalists have a history of bounce-back wins.
Enthusiasm aside, covering ‘The Joker’ will be an coming-of-age exam for Wagner. I foresee early foul trouble, but my clairvoyance also predicts this matchup could be a gladiator battle on the block. Get your popcorn ready and prepare to be entertained.