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LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Luke Walton have been impressed with Moe Wagner

Luke Walton thinks Moe Wagner helps LeBron James by being a stretch-five, while Lonzo Ball highlighted how hard Wagner plays while returning from injury.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers rookie Moe Wagner might not be getting a ton of chances from head coach Luke Walton on a win-now, playoff-contending team with LeBron James, but L.A.’s most recent first-round pick has been making a habit of impacting the game whenever he does get a shot on the floor.

Wagner got his first meaningful burn in a game situation that still mattered during the Lakers’ 128-110 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday, and while the rookie big man obviously wasn’t the answer for the team — nothing was in one of the Lakers’ most listless losses of the season — he was one of the few bright spots for L.A.

As the excellent Aaron Larsuel of “The Official Lakers Podcast” pointed out to me before the game, this was also Wagner’s first game without a knee brace, and this might be a lazy narrative — so forgive me if so — but that unencumbered-ness seemed to show in Wagner’s confidence level on the floor.

Wagner hit two of his three 3-point attempts and finished with 12 points on 5-7 shooting, and was also a team-high +12 in his 17 minutes of floor time, and Walton told reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet following the game that Wagner was one of the few positives for the team, while also outlining what he’s brought all season even when he wasn’t playing:

“He’s been solid in practice. What he really does a good job of is just playing basketball. Reading, talking, communicating, setting picks. He gives us a stretch five, which — especially with LeBron — is a nice weapon to have,” Walton said.

Wagner’s floor-spacing is a great weapon to have alongside James, and might be his only route to meaningful playing time in the near future because of how unique it is among the Lakers’ cadre of big men. Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee and even Ivica Zubac have their merits, but none can shoot like Wagner can. If he’s going to get into the rotation, spacing the floor and allowing the Lakers to play five-out basketball to create spacing for James and other penetrators is how.

But all that said about Wagner’s offense, James himself was struck with how the rookie has helped on the other end, even from the bench when he’s not playing:

“He’s always talking throughout the course of the game, trying to figure out ways he can help the team or just communicating defensively,” James said.

Wagner did a better job than some might have thought he could on the floor defensively as well, switching onto smaller players and giving good effort while forcing a couple of Washington’s guards to at least hit tough layups over him on a day no one on the Lakers could stop them from scoring.

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball is well aware of how difficult it can be to do things like that while recovering from a knee injury, so he made sure to shout Wagner out for it to reporters after the game:

“It’s tough coming back from a knee injury like that but he plays hard, he knows how to shoot the basketball and he can definitely help us a lot,” Ball said.

For Wagner’s part, he wasn’t worried about what people thought of his game. He just wanted to make the Lakers better while he was on the floor:

Against Washington, Wagner did that, even if he told reporters he wished it could’ve come with a better result.

“Obviously I was excited (to play), but you can’t be surprised, that’s your job. Your job is to be ready when your number is called so that’s what I tried to do,” Wagner said. “Wish we won.”

If Wagner keeps up the same effort level he showed whenever he gets in the game in the future, he demonstrated on Sunday that he might be able to help the Lakers get more wins moving forward when he gets chances, a small silver lining in an otherwise dispiriting defeat.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per and You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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