Entering the NBA Draft, draft experts believed Franz Wagner could fit just about anywhere. They lauded his basketball IQ, off-ball movement and athleticism.
The 6-foot-9 forward was expected to be a Lottery pick entering the draft. But Franz Wagner still had a lot to prove to show he was worth the high pick he became. The Orlando Magic stunned much of the NBA world by taking another big forward and going for what felt to many a fairly safe pick.
That may be what stood out most about Wagner during his introduction to the NBA in Summer League. Even through some difficulties getting back into rhythm after months away from playing 5-on-5 basketball, Wagner demonstrated the pro potential and maturity he brings to a young roster.
Franz Wagner was a bit of a surprise pick when the Orlando Magic made him the eighth pick in the NBA Draft. But in Summer League, he showed his professionalism and just how he can contribute quickly.
In four games during Summer League with the Magic, Wagner averaged 8.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He struggled especially with his shot, making only 44.8-percent of his shots and 2 of his 13 3-pointers.
On that front, it was a rough go for Wagner. Indeed, his offensive contribution may come slow to the Magic. But his defensive presence can pay dividends for a franchise that allowed more than 113 points per game last season and ranked in the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency.
Orlando needs all the defensive help it can get. Especially if the team goes with the defensive identity that was such a key part of coach Jamahl Mosley’s identity with the Dallas Mavericks and his apparent focus during the team’s pre-Summer League training camp.
Wagner displayed proficient footwork on defense. His length allowed him to contest shots on the perimeter while also remaining active in passing lanes. Wagner has the ability to defend in the paint and on the 3-point line.
The pace of the game may be challenging for Franz Wagner at first, but learning from veterans Terrence Ross and Robin Lopez can aid Wagner and cultivate him into a bigger defensive and rebounding threat.
Defense has become underrated in the NBA. Wagner’s defensive prowess translates nicely in order to try and stop high-powered three-point shooters.
His knack for spotting open lanes to the basket on offense opened the door for quick cuts to the basket for easy points. Wagner was known for making Laker Cuts to the goal at Michigan.
Below is a video showing Wagner’s ability to make off-the-ball cuts. This allows Orlando to develop more options on offense while also taking higher percentage shots.
Wagner showed hints of what he can do as he gets fully optimized and comfortable at the NBA level. He had a good-looking stroke and showed the smarts and poise to find ways to score and keep the defense occupied.
Despite lacking blazing speed, Wagner moves particularly well during transition offense. Wagner would sprint ahead of the defense following an Orlando defensive rebound or steal.
Moreover, when the ball fell into Wagner’s hands in transition, he made wise and quick decisions.
Play-making and off-the-ball movement are crucial in today’s NBA landscape.
Furthermore, Wagner’s ability to stretch the floor makes him and the Magic’s quick guards a threat in transition.
Orlando cannot expect Wagner to be the leading scorer but the team can count on him as a two-way starter who plays valuable minutes. Last season, the Magic had an NBA-worst 45.5% score frequency. Wagner offers Orlando more opportunities to score in transition.
Ultimately, there are still areas of the young forward’s game that need improvement. And those were on display too throughout Summer League.
Stemming from his two seasons with Michigan, Wagner is not an efficient outside shooter yet despite a picture-perfect form. During four summer league games, Wagner converted on just two of his 13 shots from beyond the arc. At Michigan, he made only 32.5-percent of his 3-pointers in his two seasons, although he rose to 34.3-percent from beyond the arc last year.
If Franz Wagner is able to hone in on shooting throughout the course of this offseason and develop a stronger passing game, expect him to sneak into the starting lineup throughout the season — especially if Jonathan Isaac is still in and out of the lineup recovering from his ACL injury.
Wagner’s lack of speed makes it counterintuitive for him to blow past any defender for an emphatic finish at the rim. Speed is not everything in professional basketball. Scouts have compared him to Nicolas Batum and Draymond Green.
Undoubtedly, Wagner is joining the fifth-youngest roster in the NBA. Despite only being 19, he has plenty of professional experience and two years at the NCAA Division I level. From 2017-19, Wagner played on Alba Berlin of the Basketball Bundesliga. His international resume strengthens Orlando’s roster considering he played for the highest level league in Germany.
Overall, Wagner’s athleticism and body-of-work bodes well with Orlando. His presence only adds value to the young Magic roster.
His off-ball movement pairs nicely with Cole Anthony and the Magic’s guards. Expect to see different offensive plays centered around the duo.
Despite playing in the toughened Eastern Conference, Orlando has the potential to be vying for a lower seed in next season’s playoffs.