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Which big will the Washington Wizards turn to: Robin Lopez or Moe Wagner?

With Thomas Bryant out for the year, I try and figure out which big in Washington is worth rostering.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

Thomas Bryant, the Washington Wizards’ young center, suffered a torn ACL over the weekend and the 23-year-old is now out for the season. Best wishes to him, and hopes for a speedy and full recovery. He’s a promising young player and this sucks big time for him, and for his team.

What will the Wizards do to replace their starter?

They have two backup bigs on their roster: Robin Lopez, a traditional five, and young Moritz Wagner (also 23 years old), who’s more of a stretch big. Neither player is rostered that much in fantasy basketball, both in ESPN or Yahoo leagues. After Bryant went down, RoLo and Moe basically split the minutes. Will the split minutes continue? Will the Wizards start each player based on matchups? What do each of them provide in terms of fantasy? Can you stream them depending on which teams they’ll face? (A lot of questions I know, but that’s why I’m here.)

Lopez, unlike his twin brother in Milwaukee, Brook Lopez, is not an outside threat. RoLo is an old school big: his value comes from defending the rim. His career per-36 minutes line is 14 points and eight rebounds per game (Thomas Bryant’s line this season: 14.3/6.1, though Bryant can stretch the floor with his outside shot, 43% from three). RoLo’s per-36 numbers this season are basically the same, although he has made two of five threes so far. For what it’s worth, RoLo’s listed as the starting center for the Wizards, though we know that can change from game to game.

RoLo’s only averaged 10+ shots per game once in his career, and he’s only averaged 30+ minutes per game once in his career. Now that he’s on a team with multiple absences due to various reasons, will his minutes skyrocket to around 30? Or, will Washington’s need for perimeter shooting (due to several of their players being less than proficient in their three-point shot) outweigh Lopez’s defense?

The other backup big, Moe Wagner, is a few inches shorter than Robin Lopez, but he’s still 6-foot-11, and you can’t teach that. His shooting has improved each season: last season, out of all players who averaged at least five shots per game, Wagner had the 20th best True Shooting percentage (63.8 TS%), right after Karl-Anthony Towns. Wagner was mediocre from three last year (30 3PT%), but he took 80 of them. This year, he’s hit half of his attempts so far.

If Wagner can capably stretch the floor so that Russell Westbrook can drive to the hoop (or, any of the other players who lack an outside shot), then Wagner’s value to Washington’s offense might be higher than RoLo’s defense, especially since the Wizards’ defense is already trash (fourth worst defensive rating in the league, 11th best offense). Why not pump up the offense as much as you can if your defense can’t be fixed?

Another thing to consider is that Lopez is 32 years old, and he was never the fastest guy around, to put it mildly. Wagner is 23, and is more capable of running with the youngs. Depending on matchups, would you prefer Lopez’s (slow) defense? Or, Wagner’s shooting and speed? The answer might be different for real life and in fantasy.

Bottom line, both Lopez and Wagner are due to see an increase in minutes. I tend to think that Wagner will get more minutes overall, but RoLo will be the starter, at least to begin with. Washington likes to play fast, and Wagner fits that conceit more comfortably than Lopez. However, this may be a real-ass time share, in which case it will be difficult to stream either/or from game to game, unless one player dominantly grabs the job.

Neither player costs you much right now. My advice is to either pick up the young Wagner (because of potential) if you have an open roster spot, or wait and see how the Phoenix Suns game tonight goes before you make a decision. It’s possible Washington makes a move to upgrade their five, but big trades are difficult when your salary cap has two mega-deals on it already.

Wagner has more upside, but neither player is probably capable of replacing Thomas Bryant for you (top 75 on ESPN’s Player Rater this season). Both PJ Washington (who’s now eligible at center) and Wendell Carter Jr. are looking better, and they could be available off waivers, especially in ESPN leagues. Enes Kanter, also available, is nearly averaging a double-double.

Thomas Bryant’s volume can be replaced, but you may have to look elsewhere than DC to find it. Get well soon to the young man!