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Can Wagner and Bryant share the center position by committee?

SB Nation logo SB Nation 5 days ago John Morrow
Matt Fraser holding a basketball: Moritz Wagner has had a promising first year with the Washington Wizards. Could he also move to the power forward position in the years ahead? © Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images Moritz Wagner has had a promising first year with the Washington Wizards. Could he also move to the power forward position in the years ahead?

I hope you have enjoyed this multi-part series on major questions surrounding the Washington Wizards as they head into next season ... or perhaps later this season since we could be seeing NBA basketball return in July.

If you missed the other three parts, they are right below.

In today’s fourth and final part, we will look at the center position. We know that Ian Mahinmi is probably not coming back. So ....

Can Thomas Bryant & Moritz Wagner form part of a center committee?

a man standing in front of a crowd: Thomas Bryant dribbles the ball in the Washington Wizards’ last home game in March before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended. © Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images Thomas Bryant dribbles the ball in the Washington Wizards’ last home game in March before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended.
Tommy Sheppard said, “if you look at the way the game is played, it’s harder and harder to have significant money tied into one player at the center position. We found it as a necessity to do center-by-committee. We’re pleased with the progress of Thomas Bryant, Moe Wagner, and Anzejs Pasecniks.”

Bryant and Wagner both profile as backup bigs on a win-now team, which we should expect the Wizards to operate as starting next year, to an extent. I’m of the opinion that there’s room for both of them to co-exist on this team even if they draft or sign another 5 to start ahead of them. It may not be ideal for their development but they could compete for minutes and contribute with their skills to a committee, though there is redundancy in their play styles.

Thomas Bryant adds more to this team right now than Wagner, but the gap isn’t significant and Bryant earns almost four times as much money as Wagner. Between the two of them next year, they are set to earn about $10.5 million.

If a center is signed to the Mid-Level Exception, that makes it around $20M total spent on centers. That’s not so bad as it’s split between three players, thus allowing the team to retain flexibility. If they do sign a center with an injury history to join the group it will be important to have a competent third center, which either player would be.

Both of them have shown positive signs as shooters. Wagner shot 22-of-54 from three point line, just over 40 percent in the 17 games prior to his injury. In the 20 games after, he shot 2-of-13 from deep, a drastic change both in frequency and accuracy. It’s fairly clear based on his shot selection that Wagner was instructed to focus more on screening, rolling, and operating in the paint.

I think it’s by design from Brooks because Wagner shares the court most often next to Bertans and they need someone occupying the paint. We’ve seen the reduced attempts from Bryant as well to a lesser extent, as he shot 10-for-35 in 18 games pre-injury and 12-of-19 in 20 games post-injury.

It’s been much more pick & roll and time in the paint for each of them than time spent outside. They have shared the floor with almost all perimeter-focused players, so there is logic to that approach, even if it might limit the abilities outside the lane for both players.

Neither Bryant nor Wagner has shown any sign that they could be a defensive boon that the Wizards need — though I think we’re in for a disappointment if we think many of the names thrown around in the draft or free agency are a fix-all.

It doesn’t mean that both can’t be parts of the team moving forward. If the opportunity arises where either can be packaged with other pieces to acquire a wing improvement or top-level center that’s been desired, then the other serves as a decent backup center on an affordable deal. Hopefully, the draft breaks right, or the right free agent is added, but both of these players should factor in regardless.

Can Wagner also play the power forward?

a group of people watching a football game: Wagner has good shooting touch, which could also help him spend more time at the power forward position. © Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images Wagner has good shooting touch, which could also help him spend more time at the power forward position.

Somewhat related to the last point about keeping Wagner as part of the future, his positional versatility could help him. I’m in the camp that thinks Wagner can play some minutes at power forward if he’s paired with the right center. I do not think that he could pair with Bryant at the same time, and I don’t see Bryant moving to the 4, but I could see Wagner fitting fairly well next to a better defensive center.

This would help with roster construction as the team would depend on him as a 3rd option at either spot and not need to have separate players at each position, and with open roster spots becoming a bigger question for next year, it’s not insignificant.

Wagner seems fairly comfortable playing on the perimeter on each end and if he can rein in the fouling I could see him sticking with some opposing power forwards just enough. His shooting, passing, and ability to beat a closeout wouldn’t kill the spacing on offense if the aforementioned center is a paint-bound player.

I may be misguided on this question and expect a lot of disagreement, but when discussing Wagner and his viability moving forward with this team if Bryant is also kept, this unknown is something that I would think the management team is pondering about.

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