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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