There is an action in basketball that sometimes freaks out spectators more than smashing dunkings, successful three-pointers or no-look passes; because it often causes great pain to the person who performs it – but even more to the opponent, albeit mentally. It requires timing, courage and a certain scumbag gene, and that’s exactly why NBA legends like Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green are so popular among the fans of their clubs and so hated by those of their opponents. On Tuesday evening, the German NBA professional Moritz Wagner presented the perfect execution of this action during his Orlando Magic’s game against the Toronto Raptors: He positioned himself at exactly the right moment in Precious Achiuwa’s path under the basket – then he let go of the 102-kilo -Just run around the giants.
Offensive foul, the referees decided. Wagner cheered, the audience cheered because instead of dunking and two points for Achiuwa, it meant Toronto foul, Orlando possession. It was one of those moments in the momentum sport of basketball that takes the wind out of the opponent’s sails and gives your own team a tailwind. Although it is too early to compare the 26-year-old Wagner with legendary opponent-frustraters Laimbeer, Rodman and Green, one thing can be said at the beginning of the NBA season, but especially after this 126:107 against Toronto: Wagner is having the best time his professional career because he reliably delivers the things that others are too good for. He gets more out of his playing time than any other NBA professional currently. The game against the Raptors is symbolic of this.
Wagner came onto the floor towards the end of the first quarter and introduced himself by stealing the ball from a Raptors player under the opposing basket and dunking it. Shortly afterwards he was fouled on the rebound, then he blocked the way for brother Franz, who was therefore able to finish without being disturbed. He then tipped his colleague’s missed throw through the ring, which was followed by being run around.
Everything happened within less than four minutes of the game and caused maximum frustration for the Raptors because their coach Darko Rajakovic denounced Wagner’s actions during the next timeout as foolishness on the part of their own players: losing the ball or not blocking it under their own basket, foul on the rebound, offensive foul . It annoys Rajakovic all the more because we know that Wagner plays like that – and his team still couldn’t prevent it. “When you have Moe on your team, you love him,” brother Franz Wagner told SZ last summer, “but when he faces you, you think twice about whether it’s fun.”
In numbers it looks like this: The older Wagner played 15 minutes, he managed ten points (with a shooting rate of more than 55 percent), four rebounds and two stolen balls. The most important stat: With him on the floor, Orlando managed ten more points than the Raptors.
Moritz Wagner is leading some statistics this NBA season
Two things are non-negotiable for success in the NBA: You need so-called superstars who can reliably put the ball in the basket, especially in important moments. In Orlando (record so far: 9:5) these are Franz Wagner (18.4 points per game) and Paolo Banchero (19.1), both of whom play at All-Star level. However, you also need someone like Moritz Wagner, who is willing to do the dirty work and sometimes let himself be run around.
“It’s a bit like driving a car for the first time: you’re a little afraid to step on the gas,” he says about provoking offensive fouls: “You have to be there before your opponent and accept that there will be contact. At the beginning of my career I tried this far too often, the success rate was perhaps 20 percent. So you have to be efficient – if it works, then of course it is an action that electrifies colleagues and fans.”
Efficient. That’s also the word that best describes Wagner’s playing time so far, and of course the statistics-loving Americans have numbers for it: his shooting rate of more than 63 percent is terrific, and his point production (11.8 points per game) is the third best of all NBA players. Professionals who are on the floor for an average of less than 20 minutes per game. What’s more: Since Wagner’s professional career began in 2018, no one has scored as many points per game (8.4) who, like Wagner, has played an average of less than 17 minutes per game.
“Hard work and concentration” is what Wagner calls what has made him and his colleagues successful so far – i.e. everything that youth coaches teach their players: blocking out when rebounding (Orlando is number six in offensive rebounds), quickly getting back on the defensive ( Fourth place with the fewest fast break points of the opponents), not a shame for defense (fourth fewest points conceded overall).
Of course, it helps when you have a coach like Jamahl Mosley, who regularly praises all of this publicly – and fans who celebrate every time Wagner is knocked down like a victory.