WASHINGTON -- Defense is not a strength for the 2019-20 Wizards, but Monday night's win over the Detroit Pistons showed one tactic of theirs that could work on a given night, if the match-up is there.
With Thomas Bryant struggling against Pistons center Andre Drummond, the Wizards deployed back-up Moe Wagner, who basically just did everything he could to push back against one of the NBA's most imposing physical forces. Wagner used his fouls, his chest and his elbows; whatever he could to impede Drummond's path to the rim.
Though it likely left Wagner with some bumps and bruises, it worked. While Drummond went 4-for-7 in match-ups with Bryant, he went just 1-for-8 against Wagner, and Wagner blocked three of his shots.
Wagner's contribution was a big reason why Drummond shot 6-for-20 from the field, good for 30 percent, which was a major blemish on his otherwise impressive night of 15 points and 24 rebounds.
"First, you've gotta realize he's strong, like different level strong," Wagner said of Drummond. "I weigh like 240 [pounds], but he's like 280 and he can move, too. You have to use your entire body to fight against him and be aware of him at all times because the moment you aren't, he's got you tucked in."
As Wagner described, he isn't the strongest big man on the court most nights. So, he has to do what he can to compensate. One way is by taking charges. He has already taken five of them in six games this season, good for third-most in the NBA.
Another way is by committing fouls. Back-up big men in the NBA are generally view their fouls as more expendable than others because they aren't playing heavy minutes, and because they are the final line of defense at the rim. Wagner had four fouls in 22 minutes on Monday and he leads the Wizards with 3.5 per game.
"Moe is going to give you great effort every time. He's going to try to get under his opponent's skin by just playing physical and tough," head coach Scott Brooks said.
Holding Drummond to 30 percent shooting was part of an overall solid defensive performance for the Wizards. They held the Pistons to 99 points on 41.5 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers.
Much of that was made possible by the Pistons missing a host of regulars including Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Reggie Jackson. Those are three of their top offensive players.
Drummond was the main guy left who could have beaten the Wizards, so they did all they could to make sure he wouldn't. Wagner was happy to be tasked with guarding him as he continues to view everything he does in the NBA as a learning process.
Wagner is in his second season and last year as a rookie barely played for the Lakers. Now, he is getting to guard top NBA centers in key moments for the Wizards.
"It's fun to be able to play through mistakes and realize I'm getting better," he said.
The Wizards do not have an ideal defensive option in their frontcourt. But with Bryant sixth in the NBA in contested shots, and Wagner playing like a pest, they might be able to get by some nights.
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