There is a saying that goes around the NBA when it comes to Summer League — it is something that Jeff Weltman has surely repeated but it is clearly the direction he is pointing toward.
Summer League is really only for the players who need it. It is not for players who have established themselves in the NBA and cannot really gain much from the extra reps.
Sometimes it is best to let players develop on their own if they have shown themselves NBA ready rather than have them go through exercise of Summer League.
Franz Wagner is NBA-ready. That much is clear. Wagner does not need Summer League.
Franz Wagner was left off the Orlando Magic’s Summer League roster. After a stellar rookie season, it is clear he does not need it even if there are some developmental opportunities to gain.
And the Magic’s roster reflects that.
The team released its Summer League roster on Wednesday with Wagner not listed on the roster. He will not play Summer League this year, having proven himself in his rookie year.
Of note then are the players who will be at Summer League.
Rookies Paolo Banchero and Caleb Houstan will make their professional debuts with the Magic in Las Vegas as expected. Joining them will be roster stalwarts R.J. Hampton and Devin Cannady.
Jalen Suggs will not play at Summer League as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery. He has recently resumed on-court work as part of that recovery.
Remember, it is not abnormal for roster players to join the team and watch Summer League games or jump in during a practice with the team. Several players did that last year as they got to know Jamahl Mosley in his first year as head coach.
Assistant coach Jesse Mermuys will be the team’s Summer League coach. Orlando is definitely playing the role of the more experienced coaching staff and a team with a year under its belt this time around. Summer League seems like it exists to accomplish very specific goals once again.
Along the lines of that guiding light, Wagner sitting is both surprising and a bit of a reward.
It is unusual for players to sit out Summer League in their first two years when they are healthy unless they are superstar-level players.
There is something Wagner could have gotten from Summer League. But it is hard to argue that he needs many more reps.
Wagner was first-team All-Rookie last year and comfortably the fourth-best rookie in the league in a very good rookie class. Wagner’s stunning and impressive season saw him average 15.2 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game while shooting 46.8-percent from the floor and 35.4-percent from deep.
Wagner was a master at controlling pace and attacking off the dribble, exploding quickly to the basket or stepping back to hit 3-pointers at a whim. Wagner was truly a special player and had a special rookie season. He was our MVP for the season.
In that sense, it is easy to see why Wagner did not need those reps. He has earned the time off to work on his own. He has nothing left to prove.
Also hanging in the background is September’s Eurobasket tournament where both Franz Wagner and Moe Wagner would be eligible to play. It appears neither has committed to playing in the tournament or its preliminary rounds yet.
Orlando definitely would not mind lightening some of Wagner’s load if he is planning to play in that tournament. That might accomplish some of the things the Magic hoped to see from Wagner in Summer League.
But there are absolutely some things that Wagner might miss. Hampton’s perspective on why he is playing in his third year in the league — a rarity for an established player — is very much why Summer League still has some importance:
Hampton said on Twitter he asked to play to get reps and rhythm against competition while continuing to integrate with the team. Hampton certainly could use it too after some difficulties in his second season.
His stats were all over the place — 7.6 points per game, 35.0-percent shooting and 2.5 assists per game against 1.4 turnovers per game. By some catch-all metrics, he was one of the worst rotation players in the league.
There were still plenty of positives. He was excellent at shooting from the corners and in catch-and-shoot options. And he was a feisty defender, able to create steals and cause some havoc, if not sometimes overeager.
Hampton has a lot to prove. His place in the rotation was not guaranteed last year and is not guaranteed next year as the team continues to add to its roster — free agency is on the horizon starting Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.
Hampton has a lot to gain from playing Summer League. It is not just the reps of playing that are important, it will be directing those reps into how he will play this coming season. Hampton has a lot to play for and a lot of growth he needs to show.
Hampton is betting on himself that he can prove himself to the Magic and his willingness to commit to his role or expand it next year. That is what Hampton has to gain.
That returns to the question of why Wagner is not playing then. Because Wagner too still has things he could gain from Summer League.
The first is, of course, learning to play with Banchero. The Magic are surely eager to see how their two most recent first-round draft picks can play together and they are surely already contemplating the ways they could have the two play off each other. It would have been nice to start building that chemistry in game action.
More importantly, is figuring out how to continue to expand Wagner’s game. Even with Banchero in the lineup, these games could have given Wagner some valuable reps as the primary player and scorer. The biggest complaint about Wagner’s rookie season was that there was not enough of him — even if dominating the ball is definitely not his playing style.
Even a few games and practices of playing that way could prove valuable for his development.
But overall, Wagner has established himself as a solid NBA player. And Summer League would just be icing on the cake.
If it is not necessary for the next steps in his development as the Magic have mapped it out — or, in truly Magic fashion, they do not want the league to see the Wagner/Banchero pairing until they spring it on the league in the regular season — then he is right not to play.
Wagner does not really need Summer League to prove anything. He would only need it to expand his already diverse game.
It is not clear how many games players like Banchero, Hampton and Cannady will play. All three clearly will have something the team wants to accomplish, even if it is just dipping their toes in the water. Do not expect Orlando to play them for the entirety of Summer League.
The rest of the roster is not exactly filled with players Magic fans will be too familiar with. Bigs Aleem Ford, Jeremiah Tilmon and Daniel Oturu are the most notable players filling out the roster. Guards Devon Daniels and Zavier Simpson might also draw some interest.
But overall, this is not a super impressive Summer League roster. Orlando seems like the team is going to use Summer League to highlight Banchero for however long he plays and give Hampton, Cannady and Houstan plenty of runway to play.
It does sound like a good environment for Wagner to play.
But the Magic clearly understand Wagner does not need Summer League. It is hard to argue that as a baseline argument.
He has proven himself plenty over that he has graduated from this yearly exercise.