Franz Wagner should be NBA’s Rookie of the Year

Dec 22, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) during the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 22, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu (17) during the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Orlando Magic selected Jalen Suggs with the fifth pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, expectations were set sky-high for his rookie season.

Suggs, who had just led Gonzaga to the national championship game, was renowned by many as a key piece to help Orlando return to their days of consistently competing in playoff runs.

In fact, it seemed that most Magic fans were still rejoicing over the new acquisition of Suggs, that the selection Orlando made just three picks later, went overlooked.

Franz Wagner was something of an afterthought in his own draft. Little did anyone know how much perceptions would change about Wagner. Maybe they should have known from the start:

The German-born Michigan Wolverine, Wagner, strutted up to the stage with confidence, donning his golden suit jacket.

And at that moment, a star was born.

Franz Wagner was a seeming afterthought when the Orlando Magic picked him in July. But he has proven himself something a whole lot more. And he should be a clear favorite for Rookie of the Year.

While Wagner was selected within the top 10 picks of last year’s draft, there was not much buzz for him or even lengthy expectations that usually come with high draft picks. The going thought on him was that he would be good but more of a fill-in player and not a starring player.

The knock on Wagner that surrounded him entering the season was the ability — or inability — to score at the NBA level. The Michigan product seemingly took those overlooking him, and made them a believer with double-digit scoring efforts in all of his first eight career NBA games, including a 28-point effort in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The 2021 NBA Draft has seemed to be loaded with talent. Cade Cunningham, Josh Giddey, Jonathan Kuminga, Scottie Barnes, Jalen Green, Chris Duarte, and of course, leading rookie of the year candidate, Evan Mobley.

Yet, Wagner has proven that his game is on the level, if not above, his fellow rookie peers.

Wagner is the only player in his rookie class to appear and start every game this season — which would be the first rookie to do since Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016 — so durability is not an issue.

Wagner holds the game-high in points among his class, with a 38-point effort versus the Milwaukee Bucks in late December. He is third among all rookies in scoring with 15.5 points per game. That is more than Rookie of the Year favorites Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Josh Giddey.

Scoring is not an issue.

And of course, Franz Wagner has produced fewer turnovers (1.6 per game) than Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Josh Giddey, all while playing more minutes. So making good decisions when on the ball is certainly not an issue too.

Wagner leads all rookies in the following categories: total points, games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, and free throws made.

Another fun fact: Wagner also sits in the top five among rookies in the following categories: three-point field goals made, free throws attempted, total rebounds, total assists, total steals, three-point field goal percentage, minutes per game, and points per game.

He is above the league average in several shooting percentages, showing a proficiency and efficiency that his peers simply do not.

Wagner is shooting 46.8-percent from the floor and 36.4-percent from deep. He rarely makes mistakes and scores in bunches. If there is a complaint about the rookie forward, it is that he does not get the ball enough.

In other words, what has separated Wagner from his peers is that he does not play like a rookie. Rare are his mistakes — other than perhaps some bad shots in good locations as he learns to finish and weave his way through a defense — and even on a team struggling like the Magic, Wagner is someone who clearly helps them win.

But even after naming all of these essential stats that land Wagner among the best of all rookies, the Magic forward still finds himself being overlooked as one of the better players in his rookie class.

According to WynnBet, Wagner (+3500) has the fifth-best odds to win the rookie of the year.

Even the NBA’s Rookie Ladder, has continued to overlook Wagner’s production. He seems to get lost in the fold of another tanking team in the Magic who lacks a standout star. Maybe that standout star is Wagner?

Wagner currently sits fourth on said ladder, much to the chagrin of Magic fans eager for attention.

The national media certainly has overlooked the Magic all season. They did not get one of the top picks in the draft, leaving curious eyes to ignore the team and its exploits. And they have the worst record in the league, further pushing them down the attention scale.

Still, Wagner is one player who should be higher on people’s boards.

The rookie has shined through the cracks of darkness, thus providing a much-needed spark for fans and a bright spot for the team’s future.

If the award is going to the best rookie one of the league’s upper-echelon teams, then yes, Mobley should be given the award right now. If it goes to the biggest individual games or the highlight reels then perhaps Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green or Josh Giddey is the choice.

But the Rookie of the Year award should be awarded to the all-around best rookie that season. The one who has the best all-around season. It should not be given to the rookie who contributed the most to a playoff team.

It should be awarded to the player who has had the all-around numbers during their first year drafted into the NBA.

Next. Orlando Magic need to make their ‘experimenting’ worth it. dark

There’s only one answer: Franz Wagner.