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Laker Film Room: Moritz Wagner is a Madman

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The latest Lakers first round draft pick is finding ways to impact the game with his energy and attitude

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The departures of Brook Lopez and Julius Randle, along with the pool of lackluster big men remaining on the free agent market have combined to make Mortiz Wagner an important player for the Lakers sooner than expected.

LeBron James — who has been reticent to play power forward at times during his career, much less center — presumably takes Randle’s spot as the team’s small-ball 5. JaVale McGee and Ivica Zubac are functional-but flawed replacements for Lopez’s 23.4 minutes per game, leaving an opportunity open to Wagner if he’s capable of seizing it.

Wagner has played with infectious energy over the course of five Summer League games, and has begun to answer some of the questions about how he can defend on the NBA-level. Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton spoke of Wagner’s palpable enthusiasm after he was drafted.

“We’re building a culture, and he brings a lot to the table as far as the passion he plays with, his unselfish nature, the way he sprints the floor. All these things that we’ve seen in film and that we saw live a couple times when he worked out for us,” Walton said.

Let’s take a closer look at how he’s making an impact during Summer League.

Wagner has been surprisingly proficient as a rim protector in summer league, blocking 2 shots per game while altering several more. His nimble feet give him the capacity to anticipate plays and do much of his work before his man catches the ball, which is essential to his development as a defender. He has fought over the top of several post seals to jump passing lanes and create turnovers with his quick hands and contested several attacks on the rim while maintaining verticality and mirroring the ball.

He needs to learn how to dial back his aggression at times when it’s not appropriate, and enthusiasm will only get him so far against NBA bigs who will be a lot stronger than him at first. His shot will eventually need to fall if he’s going to become a quality player, but it’s encouraging to see Wagner contribute in other areas when that isn’t happening, especially because the Lakers may be relying on him to provide significant minutes sooner rather than later.

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