Orlando Magic keep uncovering new parts of Franz Wagner’s game

Franz Wagner is increasingly not looking like a rookie. The Orlando Magic keep finding new ways his game expands. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner is increasingly not looking like a rookie. The Orlando Magic keep finding new ways his game expands. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Necessity is the mother of invention.

The Orlando Magic did not go small in the 2009 season until Tony Battie tore his rotator cuff and the coaching staff had to ask Rashard Lewis if he would play power forward.

Not everything works out — the Magic had to try Aaron Gordon as the team’s main ball handler as injuries hit every point guard on the roster. But every team has to eventually try something they did not plan and grow their roster in unexpected ways.

And there are certainly teams willing to experiment more than others. Really in order to do that and take advantage of that versatility is having skilled enough players to handle that potential.

Very few of those players are likely rookies. And even among those, few likely keep uncovering new parts of their game in the same way Franz Wagner continues to do.

Franz Wagner has impressed in his rookie season as the Orlando Magic keep finding new ways for his game to expand. And he keeps knocking it out of the park.

In one moment, it is Wagner’s good court awareness and sense that helped him gain the coaching staff’s trust. The next, it is Wagner coming down the lane for a monstrous dunk. Then it is his defense and his ability to stay in front of his man and get deflections.

Lately, it has been his passing as he has taken on more playmaking roles with the team thin at point guard and his cutting toward the basket. Even his step-back 3-point shooting.

Wagner has even played some minutes as a point center. There seems to be nothing he cannot do so far.

Even in Orlando’s more freelance style of offense, Wagner is someone who seems to find himself in all the right spots to score and make an impact. And that impact seems to be growing.

"“It’s hard losing a bunch of games in a row,” Franz Wagner said after the Magic lost their fourth game in a row on Saturday. “I think for us this year, it’s all about the process and trying to get better. It’s the same for me.“As a rookie, you are trying to learn every day and ask questions and learn from everyone around me. I’m very lucky that everybody around me is helping me a lot and the coaches have given me a lot of confidence to try some things out there that I normally wasn’t doing in college. That’s really cool for me. It’s quickened my learning curve to try some things out there.”"

Wagner finished Saturday’s game against the LA Clippers with 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting, making both of his 3-pointers. It was his third game with 20 points or more and already his 16th game of 15 points or more, a huge sign of the rookie forward’s consistency in the lineup.

Wagner has been even better of late.

In his last nine games, Wagner has averaged 17.3 points per game while shooting 50.4-percent from the floor overall and 48.0-percent from deep. He is posting an effective field goal percentage of 55.5-percent and a true shooting percentage of 59.2-percent.

On top of all this, Wagner is averaging 5.2 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game during that stretch. This shows the versatility the Magic saw in him when they selected him with the eighth pick of the Draft and how they have been able to fit him almost anywhere.

"“Franz is a hell of a player,” Terrence Ross said after Saturday’s loss. “He’s really really good. he does just about everything. He can pass it, handle the ball, shoot and finish at the rim. Him finding Wendell is big. Honestly, we need to find Wendell more. We’ve really got to look for him more because he has a lot of smaller guys on him. Franz and Dell to a great job playing off each other and playing off each other.”"

A lot of Wagner’s work and revelations came in that third quarter when he scored 11 of his 20 points.

The Magic worked a lot of their offense through Wendell Carter in the high post and he just fed Franz Wagner constantly cutting along the baseline.

On this play specifically, Wagner does a good job cutting along the baseline to clear space for Carter to try to post up the smaller defender. He then cuts back once he sees his man going to double Carter and gets rewarded with the dunk.

Wagner entered the league with the reputation for being a smart cutter and someone who would find these gaps in the defense. The Magic already had some understanding this is what he could do.

But his game has continued to unfurl. It is patient drives like this fourth-quarter drive that gave the Magic the lead again that shows more of what he can do:

He has had several drives like this one where he is able to hold his defender on his hip and keep them off balance by mixing speeds, slowing down to get the defense off-balance and then blowing by his defender to get to the rim for the layup.

This goes on top of two step-back 3-pointers he hit in this game and his generally expanded shot-making.

Where his biggest growth has come of late is with his playmaking. Wagner has taken over the backup point guard role with Jalen Suggs out — and Markelle Fultz entering the last stage of his rehab.

It is not perfect, but Wagner has shown an aptitude at reading the game and making plays. In any case, the move has helped speed up Wagner’s development. And, more impressively perhaps, Wagner has seemingly found his space and looked like it was second nature with each expansion.

"“It’s still a challenge,” Wagner said after Saturday’s loss. “But I think I’m learning to communicate a little better when I see something out there so we’re better prepared and don’t just play improvising as we are out there. Knowing what different teams like to do on defense, what their coverages are and then telling the bigs what to do and even the guards what to look for, I’m a little more comfortable doing that.”"

That kind of study is the biggest thing for a rookie to learn.

Wagner said he always did some playmaking in lower levels — he averaged 3.0 assists per game last year at Michigan. The difference this year is how much more often he is bringing the ball up and playing a more natural point guard position.

That Wagner has seemingly made this transition to this new role and expansion so seamlessly is the impressive part. Especially for a rookie.

It feels like every game, there is something new in Wagner’s game to discover. Something new that just turns everyone’s eyes and expands his possibilities.

"“He’s just a guy who is super easy to play with,” Anthony said after Saturday’s loss. “He knows how to play the game, he understands it. Play without, play with it, shoot it, he’s just a phenomenal player. I’m just happy I’m here to have a chance to help him develop and I just can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”"

The losing has been hard. But like with so many things, it does not feel as though it is because of the rookie.

Wagner has been a key part of all of the Magic’s best lineups so far — and the team has a -6.2 net rating with Wagner on the court, a number that trails only Anthony, and a -18.0 net rating with him off the floor, again also only trailing Anthony.

That all suggests Wagner is already making a huge impact on the team and helping them when they are in a position to win.

Next. Magic will take long-term view to trade deadline. dark

It still feels like Wagner is getting started. Each game reveals something new.