Orlando Magic tried not to skip steps with Franz Wagner, now comes the next

Franz Wagner has had a stellar rookie year for the Orlando Magic. But there is a lot more still to grow as his rookie year concludes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has had a stellar rookie year for the Orlando Magic. But there is a lot more still to grow as his rookie year concludes. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Franz Wagner admitted that it was kind of weird to get to the end of the season knowing he would not play in the team’s final game.

The Orlando Magic have already ruled him out — along with Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter and Jalen Suggs — for their season finale against the Miami Heat on Sunday.

The dream of playing all 82 games went away when Wagner rolled his ankle in the first minute of the team’s April 1 loss to the Toronto Raptors. And then his season virtually ended when he rolled that ankle again in the first quarter Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The biggest concern for the Magic at this juncture — with at least the second-worst record in the league already wrapped up heading into the final game — is keeping everyone healthy. And so Wagner will have to sit, ending what was a stellar rookie year.

He, like everyone else, is eager to do more. It clearly hurts Wagner to be sitting right now.

"“It’s kind of weird,” Wagner said of sitting out the final set of games after practice Saturday. “It was definitely a lot of fun. obviously a lot of lessons and a lot of stuff that I learned. It’s cool to almost fully healthily get through all the games. I think I learned a lot.”"

The whole season quickly became about seeing just what Wagner could do. But the Magic remained patient, keeping him somewhat confined to the same role, cutting and moving to the basket and working as a floor spacer and secondary attacker.

The Magic have always had a plan. They have always had a sense of what they want to get accomplished with their rookie.

The Orlando Magic have stayed patient with their rebuilding and development, focusing on building the foundation and the first steps.

Their larger rebuild plan has been about making sure they stay patient and focused on the building blocks the team as a whole is going to need.

Coach Jamahl Mosley has said throughout the season the team would not skip steps in the team’s development. They would focus on those foundational steps, starting with the team’s defense, for each individual player as much as the team would for the team.

Everything is a step-by-step process. That is how Mosley has approached his team’s defense.

And that will not stop with the last game for anybody.

"“For us, I think the one thing we want to make sure we hit home on is we talk about not skipping steps in the process of these guys growing and getting better,” Mosley said after practice Saturday. “It’s also the same thing when it comes to the foundation of our defense. You want to be solid defensively first. Until guys can prove that’s what they are capable of doing on a consistent basis, making the right read, making the quote-unquote spectacular play, that’s going to come with feel.”"

Orlando can point to defensive improvement this season as at least a small sign of the team’s growing foundation. The Magic have the 10th best defense since Jan. 1 — a span of more than half the season. And that number has been dropping as the team has packed things in during the last few weeks.

Only time will tell whether this is a foundation or something that is a flash in the pan. The Magic hope it is something the team can build on.

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That same philosophy that goes into the allowances for the team’s defensive development can be seen elsewhere. The Magic have been focused on laying those basics now can lead to expansion and moving on to the next step as the team moves forward.

That inevitably meant some limitations on Wagner and his role as they looked for him to master the basics. Like the team, Wagner spent this year focused on the basics.

Still, it was an incredible run. If this is the foundation for a player like Wagner, the question is more about what is the next step?

"“It was kind of a natural development,” Wagner said after practice Saturday. “We had a couple of plays that worked really well so we kept doing those. Them allowing me to have some mistakes and play through them was super important. It gives young players more confidence. That was really important for me. Some of that I have to continue to work on and get better and I will find more opportunities to do that.”"

Wagner averaged 15.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.8-percent from the floor and 35.4-percent from beyond the arc. Wagner has played himself into a likely spot on the All-Rookie First Team with perhaps the most consistent rookie season of his peers and some big scoring bursts on top of that.

Wagner had 17 games of 20 or more points and nine of 25 or more points. He topped off with a 38-point effort in a December loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

At every turn, it always felt like the Magic could and should be giving him more, putting him more in charge and more forward in the offensive gameplan. Perhaps they should have.

But it all goes back to that thought from Mosley. The team was never going to skip any steps with him. They were going to put him in positions to succeed and make sure there was that base to grow from.

If this is his base, then the future seems pretty limitless.

Wagner knows this too. He said he plans on spending his offseason looking to get stronger, knowing that will help him stand up defensively and invite contact to get to the foul line. It will be the next step for him.

That is what the team will hope to foster and coax for him. But it will be just one more step. There will inevitably be another step after that. After he masters the next step, whatever that might be.

That growth and development will come in stages. And clearly, Wagner is preparing for that next stage. The Magic are too. And the way the team wants to use him will undoubtedly change next year.

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But everyone will have to wait for next season to see how it shakes out. That is what the end of the season brings. The Magic have worked hard to build their foundation. Now they see what happens with their next steps.