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Moe Wagner sees Wizards, city of Washington as perfect fit for him

Moe Wagner sees Wizards, city of Washington as perfect fit for him

WASHINGTON -- Wizards big man Moe Wagner leaned back in his chair at the team's practice facility in Congress Heights and marveled at the Japanese media contingent following rookie Rui Hachimura. Like Hachimura, Wagner is one of the best players to hail from his home country, but he doesn't have a swath of German reporters hanging on to his every word.

"I'm pretty happy that I don't have 50 cameras following me everywhere," Wagner said.

Wagner, though, also comes to the Wizards with the pedigree as a first round pick. He was taken 25th overall last summer by the Los Angeles Lakers, who then traded him to Washington in July. He is part of a cadre of young players Washington has assembled as they embark on a new era, hoping some collection of them pan out.

Wagner may not receive the attention of Hachimura or even Troy Brown Jr., the Wizards' 2018 first round pick, but he too offers a high ceiling and the potential to become a building block for the team's future.

"They are trying to develop something new and establish a winning culture. Everyone here is part of that, it's brand new. As a young player, that's what you want," he told NBC Sports Washington.

Wagner, 22, would like to follow the same track as teammate and friend Thomas Bryant, who joined the Wizards one year ago under similar circumstances. He too was a castoff by the Lakers, who needed to clear salary and roster spots. Bryant emerged as one of the most improved players in the NBA last season and earned a three-year contract as a reward.

Wagner is about the same size as Bryant and plays the same position, but not the same style. Though Bryant can shoot threes, Wagner's game is predicated on them. He shot 39.4 percent from long range in his final two years at the University of Michigan.

But Wagner has not enjoyed the same success in the NBA so far. He shot just 28.6 percent from three as a rookie last season and then went 1-for-14 from the perimeter in the Las Vegas Summer League. He shot 1-for-7 from three in his Wizards preseason debut on Monday night.

Wagner needs to diversify his game so that when his threes aren't falling, he can still be effective. He knows that and is looking to Bryant for a model to follow.

"I think Thomas has done a great job with the way he's just done the simple things really well," Wagner said. 

"Run the floor and get rebounds. Be solid defensively, talk and knock down open shots. It's really not more than that. The rest is going to come to you. It's awesome. It's a great opportunity to do this with Thomas and learn from each other."

Wagner rounding out his game is something head coach Scott Brooks has been keying in on in the Wizards' first few practices of the season. He wants Wagner to understand that making outside shots alone isn't going to be enough to stay on the floor.

"You're only going to make - even if you're great - in the 40s [percent from three]. You'll miss up to 60 percent of your threes. But he can do other things. This surprised me about him; he can pass the ball pretty good," Brooks said.

"I told him a few things that he needs to do better. Impact the game with his agility. He can move up and down the court. I want him to run on the defensive end, getting down and protecting the paint and in transition. I think that's an easy fix that he can get better with."

The good news for Brooks is that Wagner seems serious about getting better. As a first round pick, his immediate future in basketball is secure. But he has his work cut out for him to carve out a long career in the NBA.

Wagner says that is the goal and has been since he first began playing basketball at the age of eight. Soon after picking up the game, he decided he was going to play in the NBA, even if he was "never cocky enough" to tell people that growing up. Still, he says he never had a Plan B in life, going all the way back to when he was a kid and gave up soccer to focus exclusively on basketball by the time he was 10.

Not all German kids dream of playing in the NBA. Though guys like Dirk Nowitzki have paved the way, basketball is not the country's first sport. 

Wagner began realizing his dream was possible when he continued growing, all the way to nearly seven feet. His father is 6-foot-5 and his mother 6-foot-1. He got his height from both of them, but his outspoken personality from his father, whom Wagner describes as an extroverted psychologist.

"I was always tall," Wagner said. "But I never knew I was going to be this tall."

Now Wagner has to be more than just the tall guy who can shoot. He has to be able to rebound, defend and play within the Wizards' system.

But Washington, Wagner feels, is a perfect fit. He has the opportunity to play some real minutes on a team without many proven veterans. And he also thinks the city could be a better place for him than Los Angeles was.

Wagner said he loves politics and is excited to be at the center of it all in the United States. 

"I think it's very interesting what's going on in this country," he said.

And he won't miss the glitz and glamor of L.A. because he's not the going-out type. He prefers to stay home and watch marathons of 'Friends.'

"I do very grandpa-ish things," Wagner said.

The Lakers moved on from Wagner before he could reach his potential. Maybe Washington ends up proving the ideal fit as it did with Bryant.

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Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

The Washington Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 128-111 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. It was just over a week ago the Wizards had their best win of the season against the Sixers. Saturday night was one of their worst.

They went into Memphis to play an emerging, but struggling team and got their you-know-whats handed to them. The Wizards jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first, then lost the momentum and never got it back.

By halftime the Wizards were down 15. That deficit grew to 24 in the second half.

The Wizards ended up losing by 17, but it wasn't as close as the score would suggest. It was Washington's seventh loss in eight games.

Maybe it was the three-day layoff. Perhaps they weren't sharp. Whatever the reason, that was a bad one.

2. As this game went on, it became very obvious that Memphis' gameplan was to make sure Davis Bertans didn't beat them. They swarmed the Latvian Laser on the perimeter and guarded him well beyond the three-point line.

Bertans was held to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting and 1-for-6 from three. His one three was a quick release shot from about 27 feet out. Soon after that, the defense was picking him up at halfcourt.

 

This type of treatment was inevitable for Bertans, who has been the biggest surprise of the Wizards' season so far. He has turned into one of the league's best three-point shooters and the second-best scorer on the team. Teams now know it.

3. Rui Hachimura's college teammate stole the show in this one. Brandon Clarke, who played last year with Hachimura at Gonzaga, put on an impressive scoring display highlighted by a series of vicious dunks. He measured a max vertical of 40 1/2 inches and used every inch of it to dunk all over the Wizards.

He had 19 points in the first half, including an alley-oop where his head was level with the rim and a poster dunk on the fastbreak that nearly ended Ian Mahinmi's career.

 

Clarke had 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting with four rebounds. Coming out of the draft, he was considered a good defensive player but too old (he's 23) and too raw offensively without a three-point shot.

So far, he's looking like a major steal at the 21st overall pick. 

4. The Grizzlies might not be good, but they are fun to watch and have a nice young core with Clarke alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant. Jackson is a unicorn at 6-foot-11 with the ability to drive coast-to-coast and hit threes. Morant is a force of nature, able to play well above the rim despite being 6-foot-3.

Morant nearly pulled off one of the most disrespectful plays in basketball on Bradley Beal. He tried to pull a "Michael Jordan on Ron Mercer" by snatching the ball off the glass with two hands. But he clipped the rim and was called for goaltending. Still, it was impressive because of how high he got in the air.

Memphis has an exciting young team. They might contend for a playoff spot next year with a good offseason. If they were in the East, they could really make some noise.

5. The Wizards were without several key regulars once again. Isaiah Thomas missed his fifth straight game with a left calf strain and Moe Wagner was out with his left ankle sprain after playing in the past four games.

They did get back Garrison Mathews, though. The two-way guard played in his first game since Oct. 25 after sitting out due to a stress reaction in his right leg. It was Mathews' third professional game, but he made his first shot - a corner three. It happened to come in his home state of Tennessee. 

Mathews might actually get some minutes in the next few weeks because he is the second-best shooting guard on the roster with Jordan McRae out due to a finger injury.

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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