The best moment for Moe Wagner had nothing to do with anything he did on the court.
Jalen Suggs scored a layup and got a foul and the basket in a blowout in the third quarter in Dallas. Wagner was on the floor at the time and flexed a bit to pump up his young rookie. Luka Doncic did not like this. And suddenly Wagner and Doncic needed to be pulled apart. Technicals were handed out.
All Wagner could do is smile because part of his role is to do just this. It is to get under the skin of his opponent and burrow his way into their psyche in some way.
Doncic was not the only victim. Moe Wagner got into it with several others, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, through the course of the season. It was not something he really tried to do. He is just unexpectedly physical and his game has him doing those little things that just annoy the heck out of people.
Those stars are probably more annoyed that a player like Wagner — a third-string center, perhaps — would stand up to a star player.
It is not for everybody. And it should not be. But this is how Wagner plays. For a 6-foot-11 big, Wagner is a little irritant. Just burrowing his way into the rhythm of a game and making a little impact, even if it is throwing a star off momentarily.
Moe Wagner latched on to the Orlando Magic and became a strong player able to fill gaps on offense and annoy players on defense in a successful season.
Every team needs this guy. Someone who will get a well-timed technical foul or annoy the opponent into a mistake.
With Michael Carter-Williams missing the entire season after offseason ankle surgery (the team released him at the trade deadline), the Magic needed an irritant and someone to give them an edge.
Wagner may not be the perfect version of that by any means. But Wagner, like he does to his opponents, wormed his way into the heart of the Magic team, becoming a useful and valuable player to the team.
Wagner is a strong shooter for a big man and a capable player on the inside. His best defensive attribute might be that ability to get under someone’s skin. But that certainly has some value.
With the Magic likely letting veteran Robin Lopez go in free agency, the team will need a dependable third center — or even a spot backup center. Wagner assumed that role last year, even being able to play alongside other bigs for the Magic, and seems set to take on that role again.
That was certainly not a guarantee at the start of the season. There were plenty of doubts that Moe Wagner, brother and yearlong roommate to eighth overall pick Franz Wagner, would have that place on the roster. He had a lot to prove.
Moe Wagner did that with a strong season within the role the Magic mapped out for him. He averaged a career-best 9.0 points per game while grabbing 3.7 rebounds per game and shooting 49.7-percent from the floor and 32.8-percent from deep.
It was a continuation of the way he closed last season in 11 appearances for the Magic late in the season –starting on a two-way contract. That finishing run felt very much like a player taking advantage of an excess of minutes on a team with nothing to play for.
That run was at least some clue that Wagner had a knack for putting himself in positions to score. He is always available and around the ball offensively. That is probably his best skill and allows all the antics that define his defensive strategy to occur.
Wagner did plenty of good things and made some big baskets. But nobody should necessarily confuse Wagner for a regular rotation player. Wagner is a player the Magic should hope to sprinkle in or use when injuries hit the roster.
Wagner is a good shooter for a big, but hardly proficient for the number of open shots he gets. Wanger was largely left open throughout the season, but was an average 3-point shooter from every spot except the corner — he made 40.0-percent of his corner 3s.
He worked a lot better as a pick-and-roll threat. His ability to pop certainly would keep defenses honest, but Wagner mixes things up by crashing the lane hard and getting near the basket.
The Magic scored 1.08 points per possession when Wagner was the roll man in pick and rolls and averaged 3.8 screen assists per 75 possessions, placing him in the 85th percentile according to Basketball Index.
It makes sense then that this is how Wagner plays. He squeezes into the gaps to do the little things on both sides of the ball. And that is the best way to use him.
Wagner’s value though will go as far as he can score because his defense remains very porous.
According to data from Basketball-Index, opponents shoot 3.31-percentage points better at the rim than expected with Wagner protecting the rim — according to NBA.com’s tracking stats, opponents shot 68.1-percent at the rim against Wagner, the eighth-worst mark on the team and by far the worst among the Magic’s centers.
Wagner is good to take some charges — he led the team with 14 charges drawn this season according to NBA.com’s hustle stats — but that is about it. He is not a shot-blocking threat, nor is he great moving laterally or on the block.
This is why the Magic certainly should not be counting on Wagner to do much more than fill in some minutes in the long term.
Player Grade: B
Moe Wagner undoubtedly proved a lot of people wrong this season — present company especially. He showed that his stats were not empty. He found ways to score and continued to fill gaps for the team.
More importantly, though, his role was to give the team a bit of an attitude. He always made up for his deficiencies with this attitude. You might score on him, but he was going to be annoying in the process.
That is probably not enough to build a team around or reserve a spot in a rotation. It certainly is not going to make him a starter. If the team is relying on him too much, something has gone wrong. And that was part of the issue for the Magic.
But Wagner played well individually despite it all. He seems like a good candidate to stay on the team and have the final year of his deal guaranteed. it is clear the kind of role he can play.
And the right injection of Wagner into the lineup can provide a spark for a team. A really important spark, for sure. Something the Magic need from somewhere or someone moving forward.
Wagner is good at squeezing into gaps in every way. Whether that is a cut to the basket or a roll to the rim or getting a star off his game and focused on some minor annoyance rather than on the game itself, that has value to a team.
Wagner has not overstayed his welcome at all. He still has a role to play for this team. There are still plenty of gaps the Magic will need to fill.