Moritz Wagner stepped to the free-throw line with eight minutes, six seconds left in Sunday’s game, searching for his first points as an NBA player. His Lakers teammates, as well as the crowd at Staples Center, sensed the big moment for the rookie out of Michigan.
When Wagner rattled in his first free throw, JaVale McGee stood up from the Lakers’ bench and repeatedly leaped in the air. Tyson Chandler stood up, pointed at Wagner from the opposite end of the bench, and cheered. LeBron James also stood up, smiling and clapping.
When Wagner’s next free throw slipped through the nets, McGee waved his towel on the side of the court, unabashedly supporting his fellow big man.
After the game, after Wagner had scored 10 points, he could only appreciate the sentiments from his teammates.
“Yeah, I looked back and they were nuts, of course,” Wagner said. “It’s pretty cool the way they were acting. It’s fun. It’s been a while. So, yeah, it was a very cool moment for me.”
Before Sunday, Wagner had played only seven minutes this season with the Lakers. Most of his time has been spent playing for the Lakers’ development league team, the South Bay Lakers.
In three games with the Lakers, Wagner had one rebound and two assists.
“He just hadn’t had points in the league yet,” McGee said. “So we were excited.”
So was the crowd once it realized what was happening.
“He learned how to ride a bike,” James said jokingly. “That was that moment. You guys never rode a bike before? … Yeah, we were excited. Very excited. Very excited.”
Wagner played almost 10 minutes and was not shy about shooting. He was three-for-eight from the field, including two of three from three-point range.
“Obviously it’s exciting anytime a rookie gets their first points,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “But if you looked at our bench, you would have seen the other bigs, in JaVale and Tyson, jumping up and hitting the floor, ’cause they really are excited for him.
“They work out against each other every single day and I think that excitement got the whole crowd to kind of recognize that it was our rookie’s first NBA points, which is special for anybody. But in a 20-point game, for guys to have been in the league that long to be that excited for their teammate speaks to the type of group we have.”
Wagner reportedly is not afraid to let his voice be heard during practice. During sessions against McGee and Chandler, he has been known to talk smack.
That he doesn’t back down is a positive sign in the eyes of Walton.
“He talks a lot,” Walton said, smiling. “He plays hard. He talks a lot. He’s very competitive, which we love. He sets good screens, he can pass, he can shoot and he likes to talk trash. So it’s a good combination for what we encourage around our practice facility.”
So, Wagner was asked, is Walton right about the trash-talking?
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Wagner said, laughing.
Wagner continues to get pointers from veterans like Chandler, McGee and James, and his young teammates help him stay ready.