The Los Angeles Lakers selected Moritz Wagner with the No. 25 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, believing that his ability to stretch the floor, passion and maniacal energy would make him a great fit.
Unfortunately, an injury sustained during Summer League play caused him to miss training camp and left him trying to play catch up when he got back to full health.
There’s a lot to like about Wagner, who plays with the kind of intensity and reckless abandon that wins fans over. That said, intangibles alone won’t cut it in the NBA, and he’s going to have to improve upon his 29% three-point shooting and mediocre rebounding. Wagner has the potential to be a small-ball five but if the Lakers had felt comfortable with him filling that role full-time, they wouldn’t have needed to trade for Mike Muscala at the 2018-19 NBA trade deadline.
That said, Wagner’s ceiling is certainly higher than Muscala’s. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat bigger defenders, especially with his go-to move, a right-to-left behind-the-back dribble he likes to use on the perimeter. Defensively, his lateral quickness allows him to contain on the perimeter, but he needs to get better at reading and anticipating what the offense is trying to do.
A full offseason of good health combined with hopefully another strong run in the Las Vegas Summer League should do Wagner a world of good. He was forced to attempt to adjust on the fly last season and as a result, rarely looked totally comfortable on the floor.
Highlight Of The 2018-19 Lakers Season
It’s his versatility to both step beyond the arc as well as beat his defender off the dribble that makes Wagner so intriguing.
The Lakers have lofty goals for the 2019-20 NBA season that include contending for a championship if they are able to land another All-Star player to compliment LeBron James. Wagner’s salary will be cheap at just over $2 million and the Lakers will need low-cost options to fill out their roster, particularly if they burn through most of their spending money on two All-Star players.
An injury robbed Wagner of a solid chunk of his rookie offseason, causing him to miss valuable opportunities to adapt to the NBA game. If he can stay healthy this summer, Wagner will be able to fine-tune his game and prove to the Lakers that he can be the kind of versatile, floor-spacing big man that the team needs.
He still has a long way to go, but Wagner has shown enough flashes of potential to at least be optimistic about his future. The first test for Wagner will come during Summer League where he will be expected to showcase his improvement against a lower level of competition.