Orlando Magic Daily Playbook: Franz Wagner has beaten every expectation

Kevin Durant got into hiss zone to lead the Brooklyn Nets over the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Durant got into hiss zone to lead the Brooklyn Nets over the Orlando Magic. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Franz Wagner was not a name many Orlando fans had their eyes on in the 2021 draft. In the final Orlando Magic Daily mock draft, he was predicted to go 14th overall to the Golden State Warriors.

In another Orlando Magic Daily article, Wagner was described as a “glue guy” meaning he would always be an above-average player, but likely not make an All-Star team. This was a completely understandable viewpoint at the time.

The general sentiment seemed to be he would fall into the Joe Ingles-level of a basketball player.  Which is a great addition to any team in this league and certainly what everyone thought the Magic acquired with the eighth pick in the draft.

The common complaint with the Wagner pick was that Orlando should have made a play for a player with greater scoring or star upside. Or that Wagner was such a glue guy, his impact would be lost on a developing team.

Wagner has absolutely lived up to the expectations set upon him. But he has also shown a skill set that goes well beyond what anyone thought he would have the ability to do.

Expectations for Franz Wagner were pretty middling entering the draft process. But Wagner has proven to be a steal for the Orlando Magic with a top-10 pick.

Wagner has been fantastic though.

He is averaging 13.4 points per game while shooting 44.5-percent from the floor and 37.1-percent from beyond the arc. He has proven not only to be a glue guy, able to defend multiple positions and create space with timely cutting, but also a pretty strong offensive option.

Just ask the Minnesota Timberwolves, whom Wagner dropped a career-high 31 points on in a Magic win.

Wagner has hit an expected rookie wall of late as opponents catch up on their scouting report. He struggled mightily from behind the arc in the five games before Monday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, shooting a horrid 11.1-percent on 3.6 attempts per game.

Compare that to the first eight games of the season where he was shooting 46.3-percent on 5.1 attempts per game and his true shooting ability is likely somewhere in between.

This still leaves him in a much better position than anyone thought he would be at this point in the season after shooting just 32-percent from 3-point range in his final year at Michigan.

More than just the statistical numbers found on a page is the fact that he feels confident shooting the basketball.

A lot of credit has to be given to rookie head coach Jamahl Mosley for installing comfort within his young team and encouraging his players to develop weaker areas of their game to better fit the team in the long run.

No one player understands that more than Franz Wagner.

The concept of developing a solid 3-point shot is not the only thing he has focused on in the early part of this season. He has been aggressive at getting to the rim and has a respectful 45.8-percent shooting percentage entering Monday’s game when driving to the basket according to data from Second Spectrum.

This part of his game has benefitted primarily from advanced footwork at such a young age.  His ability to stop on a dime and get defenders off balance has paid dividends when it comes to scoring in the paint.

One other thing that has been a big surprise is his athleticism.

In the NCAA tournament last year, Wagner showed flashes of this ability but nothing like what he is producing on the court right now.

While he is not flying higher than 2011 Blake Griffin, he has been the most explosive athlete on the Magic so far this season. His highlight-worthy plays have not only generated energy for his teammates, but it has also helped him finish at a higher rate at the basket.

Another facet of his game Wagner has dedicated himself to is one on one penetration from the perimeter. This was one of the biggest knocks on his game coming out of Michigan and it is clear it has been made a point of emphasis for the Orlando coaching staff.

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Wagner is taking this weakness head-on in order to improve which is the crux of this analysis.

He may not be the best 3-point shooter, the most athletic power forward in the league or the best at individual drives to the basket, but he has worked tremendously hard at improving the worst parts of his game and seen relatively good results.

That is what separates him from the Joe Ingles, Kyle Andersons and other glue guys in the league.  Those players have stayed put in their roles and have made fine careers out of it. Wagner likely could have followed the exact same career path and no one would have given it a second thought.

He has shown a passion that goes well beyond these goals and the Magic are going to need him to develop even more for the future.

If Wagner had stayed comfortable in his role as an ancillary piece, the Magic’s lineup likely would not make a deep postseaosn run. And all those criticisms from draft night over the pick would have proven true. They still might. There is still a lot of basketball to play this season and rookies rarely progress in a straight line.

If Wagner becomes the defensive anchor, a solid 3-point shooter, an asset in the fast break and a polished playmaker as he has shown, then this team can become elite.

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While the growing pains for all of these young pieces may not result in wins over the next few years, understanding where the team is headed when it comes to player development can make fans excited for every single game.