It took rookie big man Moe Wagner almost two months to score his first NBA points, so when he finally scratched from the free-throw line as the Los Angeles Lakers closed out a win over the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers’ bench went ballistic:
The Lakers went WILD when rookie Moe Wagner scored his first point pic.twitter.com/6qlZY3v2a3— ESPN (@espn) December 2, 2018
Wagner appreciated the gesture.
“I looked back and they went nuts. It was pretty cool, the way they reacted. It was fun, it’s been a while,” Wagner said. “It was a very cool moment for me.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton also loved to see his team support the first-year forward/center.
“I think it speaks to the culture our team has and the guys we have. Obviously, it’s exciting any time a rookie gets their first points, but if you looked at our bench you would have seen the other bigs, (they) take pride in this,” Walton said. “They work out against each other every single day and I think that excitement kind of got the whole crowd to recognize it was one of our rookie’s first NBA points.”
Michael Beasley also thought it spoke to how beloved Wagner has become during his short time in the locker room.
“He’s just a good kid, man. Nobody wants to go through injury, so for him to go through it his rookie year is a little sad, so we all just root for him a little more. He’s a funny guy,” Beasley said. “He’s one of those guys you just love.”
Lonzo Ball agreed.
“He’s just a great kid. We’re proud of him, glad we got him some minutes tonight,” Ball said.
Here’s where we point out that Ball is actually around half a year younger than Wagner, but his sentiment is noted nonetheless. Still, as much as the Lakers appear to obviously like Wagner, they haven’t been able to get him on the floor for very many minutes; just 17 total after the 10 he played against Phoenix, something that he’s had to try and take in stride.
“Obviously it’s not the easiest,” Wagner said. “It’s a little frustrating. You want to get out there, you want to play, you want to help the team win. It wasn’t an easy couple months for me, but every day is game day. You’ve got to approach it day-by-day and it’s going to pay off.”
Wagner finally saw his efforts rewarded with his 10 points in 10 minutes against the Suns in addition to the raucous cheers from his teammates and an enthusiastic Staples Center crowd, and Walton said they’ve seen what’s led to the payoff in practice all the time.
”He talks a lot, he plays hard. He’s very competitive, which we love. He sets good screens, he can pass, he can shoot and he likes to talk trash,” Walton said. “It’s a good combination of what we encourage around our practice facility.”
Wagner has grown intimately familiar with the UCLA Health Training Center that Walton is referring to, getting almost all of his time on the basketball floor there between Lakers practices and playing in G League games for the South Bay Lakers in the same gym.
Even with his fun few minutes against the Suns, that’s not set to change any time soon. With Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee speaking for all of the Lakers’ meaningful center minutes and Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, LeBron James and Michael Beasley handling things at power forward, this season looks like it’s going to mostly be a personal-development one for Wagner.
That may not be the outcome he was hoping for — all players want to play — but he’s embracing his rookie reality and just focusing on working to make sure that all of his playing time is as successful as his Sunday afternoon stretch against the Suns.
“I’m going to be in the gym tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.,” Wagner said, and based on how positively the Lakers are talking about his work ethic, there’s no reason to doubt him.