Franz Wagner was not supposed to be this good, this early for the Orlando Magic. He was supposed to be a glue guy — not a crafty, highlight-reel offensive player.
When the Magic drafted Wagner with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the front office praised him for his intangibles, his team-first mentality and his positional versatility. All this proved to be true.
Wagner was exactly as advertised. But that was not everything he was. Wagner ended up far exceeding whatever expectations anyone had for him in the draft. He was not just a glue guy. He was a whole lot more.
Any thought that Wagner would simply be a fill-in scorer at 15 points per game and did not have star potential were put to rest very quickly in his rookie year.
In his rookie year, he has already surpassed that ceiling and showed unlimited potential.
Franz Wagner stood as one of the biggest surprises of the Orlando Magic’s season, far exceeding his pre-draft expectations and quickly becoming a core piece for the Orlando Magic.
Wagner averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in his rookie year. If the Magic had a winning record and in playoff contention, he would have been a Rookie of the Year finalist, without a doubt. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting but recorded the fourth-most votes in a strong rookie class (Jalen Green edged him out with one fewer vote, but a second-place vote instead of a third-place vote).
In either case, he seems like a lock to make the All-Rookie First Team. And in this rookie class with how many players making positive contributions throughout the class, that feels like a huge accomplishment.
Wagner proved that he was a versatile and team player, as advertised.
He took on the role of point-forward when the Magic needed him to, earning him the nickname of, “Point Franz.”
Wagner was efficient offensively, shooting 51-percent from the field and 35-percent from three. He played within the flow of the offense, making the right passes and taking his shot when the opportunity presented itself.
Wagner’s comfort level with the ball was impressive. He routinely and efficiently lobbed alley-oops to the big men or attacked the lane with deft ball-handling and touch. He had the confidence to shoot step-back threes in big moments.
What blew everyone away this season was Wagner’s ability to create off the dribble, his craftiness around the basket and also his explosiveness.
A signature moment came early in the year against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wagner dribbled around two Wolves’ defenders and finished with a ferocious slam — a dunk heard around the world and put the league on notice. That was only two of his 28-points in a come-from-behind Magic win on the road.
He would only continue to have more highlight-worthy plays, throughout the year. Oftentimes, late in the game, Orlando would put the ball in Wagner’s hands to create, which is a great experience for a rookie.
The numbers back up how efficient Wagner was throughout the season too.
Wagner had 5.9 total shots at the rim per 75 possessions. He was an expert at keeping defenders on his hip and keeping them off balance to find gaps to get to the basket and finish at the rim.
This is still an area of some weakness — he shot a 59.75-percent adjusted field goal percentage at the rim according to Basketball-Index and his rim creation, passing and shot numbers were certainly below average. But the potential was undoubtedly there for him to keep improving.
Finishing at the rim and scoring near the basket are usually the last things young players develop. If this is Wagner’s biggest weakness, then there are clearly bright things ahead.
Those drives did not necessarily create scoring either. Wagner was a great playmaker throughout the season, especially for a player of his size. He had 8.3 assists per 75 possessions, nearly putting him in the top third of the league.
With all that the Magic asked Wagner to do, it will only help accelerate his development. Wagner can stand to become more efficient with his three-point shot and develop more of a mid-range and post-up game.
He has the size advantage against most wings and if the Magic call his number in the post, Wagner should be ready to feast. The mid-range game and shooting off the dribble will prove to be hard for Wagner to master, but his progress throughout the year indicates he will improve.
There was just not a lot he could not do offensively.
What was exciting about Wagner was not merely the numbers he put up but the potential that all seemed to promise. It was so clear there was much more Wagner could do.
Defensively, he was solid and proved to be capable of guarding smaller wings. At 6-foot-10, Wagner is extremely agile for his size, he uses his length well and has a strong base.
According to data from Basketball-Index, Wagner had a positive defensive impact (a B-grade for his perimeter defense) and above-average ratings in most of the catch-all defensive statistics. That is saying a lot for a rookie. Rookies often struggle most defensively.
This is something Wagner could contribute immediately.
He made it clear throughout the season on both ends that he was more than just a normal rookie. And this is just the baseline season for him to start growing.
Player Grade: A
Next season, Franz Wagner’s role could change with the return of Markelle Fultz to full health, another high lottery pick, a healthy Jalen Suggs and possibly Jonathan Isaac’s return — all players who will command the ball.
Wagner too will demand the ball. The biggest complaint about his season was his low usage rate — around 20-percent. Fans were begging the team to give Wagner more touches and a bigger offensive role — never mind he averaged the second-most field goal attempts per game on the team.
Everyone just wanted to see more of Wagner and what the limits of his game might be.
Wagner showed he does not need the ball to succeed. That initial scouting report was right in some way. Wagner will make things happen and be a contributor no matter what role the Magic give him. The ball will find Wagner, he will take what the defense gives him and find ways to attack and make his team better.
That is more than anyone could ask for from a rookie forward.
In the 2022 season, Wagner established himself as a more-than-capable, efficient, smart basketball player, who will flourish in the NBA for years to come.