A lateral left knee contusion caused Moe Wagner to start his season later than he and the Lakers would have liked, further complicating the already difficult process of rookie life in the NBA.
But injuries, illness, and absence have ravaged the Lakers’ frontcourt in recent weeks, providing Wagner his first opportunity to show what he can do outside of garbage time.
Wagner’s pick and roll game has been his best asset, where he’s a rare triple-threat as someone who can pop out behind the 3-point line, roll to the basket and finish at the rim, or identify his open teammate when LeBron James gets trapped, and he has to make a 4-on-3 decision out of the short roll.
His shooting ability gives Luke Walton different options than Tyson Chandler or JaVale McGee can provide, where he often has Wagner make a Zipper Cut into a Ghost Screen, which is when he sprints to set the screen but never actually does it and pops out instead. There are two fewer bodies in the paint when that happens, which gives ball-handlers better spacing to attack the rim.
Moe Wagner gives the Lakers an offensive skillset they don't have elsewhere on the roster. @LakerFilmRoom breaks down what he's seen from the rookie big man in his first real playing time.https://t.co/A03NKaC5FT pic.twitter.com/POuczsm6sj— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) December 20, 2018
Wagner’s pick-and-roll defense may be what keeps him off of the court though. There’s never a concern with his motor, and he’s usually in the correct position, which isn’t always the case for young bigs. But the Lakers typically prefer to play in a deep drop with JaVale McGee or Tyson Chandler at the center position, and that doesn’t suit Wagner’s talents. He isn’t much of a leaper and has unremarkable length for a big man, meaning that guards can break his contain by going right at him.
Wagner is better at shocking the ball — which is when he hedges at the level of the screen — but even there he’s at a quickness deficit.
Wagner has demonstrated an array of offensive skills during his first chance at real playing time, but the Lakers need to find a suitable defensive role for him if he wants to crack the rotation for good.