WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has shown some different traits this season, now that his primary goal is player development. He has been much more willing to both bench players within games and then afterward offer harsh assessments as to why.
Second-year big man Moe Wagner got that treatment on Sunday night in the Wizards' 135-119 loss to the L.A. Clippers. After starting the game and playing 14 minutes in the first half, he played three minutes in the second half.
And during his postgame press conference, Brooks didn't mince his words when offering an explanation.
"His head wasn't in the game," Brooks said. "When you're a young player, you've gotta lock in. You have to do what we need to be done. We talked about it. We talked about it at halftime and he didn't want to do it."
Brooks has employed a similar strategy with other young players. Both Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura have been benched and then criticized publicly, albeit to different degrees.
In the past, Brooks has stopped short of publicly calling out players, particularly veterans and stars. But clearly he sees this as a tactic that can help light a fire under young players who have not yet established themselves in the NBA.
Wagner, for one, didn't take issue with Brooks' assessment.
"He's not wrong," Wagner told NBC Sports Washington. "I didn't have the energy I usually have... I think that's the biggest thing when you're young, the consistent effort and the consistency of doing your job. It's easy to do it every other night, but you have to do it every night."
Wagner's numbers weren't awful on Sunday. He had seven points and six rebounds and was 2-for-2 from three.
But he had some head-scratching moments on defense and seemed to flop looking for fouls at times when he may have been more impactful playing within the team's defensive system.
"[I need to] do the easy things right. Just do your simple job. Don't overdo it. Don't do crazy stuff out there," Wagner said.
Wagner, 22, is playing heavy rotation minutes for the first time. Last year with the Lakers, he only appeared in 43 games and averaged 10.4 minutes per night. He is learning on the fly how to find consistency at the NBA level.
The good news for Wagner is that Brooks doesn't have much of a choice whether to play him. With Thomas Bryant out for at least a few weeks due to injury, he is the best center on the roster.
But Brooks dropped a line that should serve as a warning to Wagner, that nothing is guaranteed, even in the situation the Wizards are currently in.
"I don't believe in doghouses, I believe in a fair house. If he doesn't do what we need, we move on to the next guy," Brooks said.
"Everybody deserves that opportunity that works hard every day in practice. Next man up. Hopefully he will come back and be locked in against the Hornets. And he will."
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