2022 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Franz Wagner’s rookie season will have plenty of uncertainty

The Orlando Magic surprised some by going with a relatively safe pick in Franz Wagner. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic surprised some by going with a relatively safe pick in Franz Wagner. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images) /

After the Orlando Magic drafted Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, it was tough figuring out who was more excited: the team, fans or draft analysts.

All three groups had nothing but positive things to say, and for good reason. Jalen Suggs is the most talented prospect the Magic have drafted since taking Dwight Howard with the number one overall pick in 2004.

Two picks after landing Jalen Suggs, the Magic were back on the clock, thanks to the Nikola Vucevic trade with the Chicago Bulls. They surprisingly took Michigan forward Franz Wagner with the eighth overall pick.

The selection was well received, but Wagner’s expectations are significantly lower than for his fellow rookie in Suggs. Wagner was viewed as a solid role player who would fit into the NBA as a versatile forward. But this was hardly the home run hit Magic fans wanted, on top of what they got from their first pick.

Franz Wagner may not have been the pick Orlando Magic fans wanted. But he is a solid contributor who can add something important to the team.

In his final year at Michigan, Wagner averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 turnovers per game. Several scouts characterized Wagner as a high-floor, low-ceiling player who should be a solid role player in the league. They lauded his intelligence, versatility and defense.

We may have to wait five years to be sure, but today’s expert analysis concludes there was a drop-off in talent after the fifth pick (depending on how you feel about Scottie Barnes). With that being said, it is fair to have a different level of excitement for Suggs versus Wagner.

In taking Wagner, the Magic passed on higher-upside players such as James Bouknight, Ziaire Williams, Moses Moody. They all seemingly have incredible potential, especially on the offensive end.

They passed on that seemingly to draft a role player?

In the NBA, there are several names for roles that have a less than explicit meaning. For instance, the claim that a certain player is a superstar is oftentimes subjective and unstable. The term role player is tricky as well.

Wagner may very well be a role player, and an excellent pick at the same time. Mikal Bridges, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez are all examples of high-end, defensive-minded role players who have been extremely important to a team battling for a title.

At the end of the day, a team cannot win if it is full of stars. It needs supporting players who fill in and understand their roles.

On top of the “role player” or “glue guy” status that has been attached to Wagner, he has also fallen victim to the shortcomings of the player comp game. NBADraft.net compared him to Nemanja Bjelica and Mike Dunleavy.

That lowered the expectations for Wagner. Perhaps far too much.

Wagner’s Summer League run did not help matters either. Wagner struggled some in his first run with the Magic, averaging only 8.0 points per game while shooting 44.8-percent from the floor and only 15.4-percent from deep.

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That would be unfair. Summer League is only a snippet of what to expect. Even Wagner admitted he needed some time to get acclimated to playing again. But there were still plenty of hints of what Wagner can provide.

Another of Wagner’s major strong suits is his versatility on both sides of the ball. Wagner does not have the tools to be a star on the offensive end, but his skills will be useful.

The offense will not run through him, but much like Bridges, he should be able to score efficiently enough to make opposing defenses pay attention.

But where Wagner’s potential may truly lie, is on defense. That is where many NBA scouts and observers see Wagner’s best abilities.

Wagner can seemingly play any wing position. And with reports he may have grown to 6-foot-9 at Michigan, he could function as a center in some smaller lineups. If you look at Wagner’s ability to protect the rim, in addition to his ball watching, and his switch-ability, he could eventually be used as a small-ball 5.

That versatility though is Wagner’s greatest strength. He was able to muscle up against Evan Mobley in the Magic’s second Summer League game and hold his own against Jonathan Kuminga in the first game. Being able to switch between both wings and bigs will make Wagner a powerful tool defensively.

The Magic will not be the most competitive team this year, but they might be one of the more versatile. Wagner could play at small forward if the Magic want to run with a bigger lineups, or he could play both backup power forward and center. These lineup decisions will be up to new head coach Jamahl Mosley.

Due to his versatility, as well as the Magic’s roster, Wagner will most likely be given the chance to play multiple positions throughout the year. But if Mosley sees the upside of Wagner more to do with his passing, and keeping up with smaller players, instead of help defense around the rim, Wagner may suit up mainly as a small forward.

The important thing with Wagner is the team has options on how best to use him.

With the team having so many young players with potential, there is a distinct possibility that someone falls out of the rotation completely. That someone could very well be Wagner. With training camp right around the corner, Mosley may have already started his lineup calculations.

The Magic are likely to make sure their rookie gets playing time. But it will be a constant fight. Wagner’s versatility will make it easier to find his way. But he still has to earn it.

Wagner’s upcoming season is going to be similar to the Magic’s season as a whole. There is a lot of potential, yet there needs to be some trial and error on the court in order to see what’s the best path forward.

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This season will be very important as far as player development goes, but maybe not as much in the form of wins and losses. For such a young team, and a young player, the emphasis will be about opportunity for the players to compete with one another and demonstrate if they can carve out a role in the league.