Franz Wagner’s arrival seems inevitable for Germany, Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner has had a strong start to EuroBasket as he poured in 32 points in Germany's win over Lithuania. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images)
Franz Wagner has had a strong start to EuroBasket as he poured in 32 points in Germany's win over Lithuania. (Photo by Alexander Scheuber/Getty Images) /

Franz Wagner has always felt like a best-kept secret.

In a star-studded 2021 Draft class, Wagner was the unassuming one. The guy who got the dreaded “jack-of-all-trades” label and the one who did not have the eye-popping stats but who still just made everything work.

The Orlando Magic made him the eighth pick in the draft only to watch him struggle through Summer League. But they always believed how much he would help. Just probably not this much.

He was perhaps the team’s best player last year and a player who quickly came to define the potential of this young team. A player that left every Magic fan asking and wanting more in so many ways.

So what would happen if a team let Wagner cook? What would happen if Wagner gained more confidence to attack off the dribble and understood just how good he could be?

Franz Wagner had a stellar rookie season that deserved more notice in a good rookie class. His EuroBasket run is ensuring everyone knows the Orlando Magic forward and that a whole lot more is coming.

He was just a 20-year-old rookie last year. It would be impossible to ask him to be fully formed. But after an offseason to get some work in, Wagner is already showing he can do a whole lot more.

After the performance he put in during a huge 109-107 double-overtime win over Lithuania in EuroBasket on Sunday, it is getting harder to deny what Wagner could give the Magic both in the 2023 season and well beyond.

Wagner has clearly stepped his game up in several ways, even if it is just added confidence in everything he already does so well. And on basketball’s biggest stage this summer, Wagner is not just showing out, he is downright starring.

Wagner cemented a strong showing early on in EuroBasket in his national team debut with 32 points on 12-for-20 shooting, including a run of 14 straight points in the third quarter, a pair of late pull-up 3-pointers and a whole lot more highlights on both ends.

Yet, despite all that, it still seemed like Wagner was not involved enough. Especially late as Lithuania made a late run, pounding the inside with Jonas Valanciunas (34 points and 14 rebounds). Germany needed some baskets and relied too much on isolations from Dennis Schroder that killed the team’s offensive flow.

Some of Germany’s best possessions in a tired overtime period came when Wagner got downhill and was able to dish the ball out to shooters. Everyone was just missing shots short, including a game-winning attempt at the buzzer where Wagner stepped back to the three-point line and missed his shot short.

That should not take anything away from Wagner’s game. He is still just 21 years old and has a lot of things to improve on — including tightening his dribble under pressure if the Magic or anyone has any vision of using him as a point forward.

This is still ostensibly Dennis Schroder’s team. And the German captain took over the game’s final stages.

That feeling speaks to how quickly Wagner has developed.

A German basketball magazine proclaimed him the “Face of the Next Generation” and the media at EuroBasket named him the best young player in a survey. Wagner is still pretty unassuming and not looking for the spotlight.

It is not a surprise that he is making an impact. The broadcasters treated Wagner like he is one of the team’s stars. And it is hard to say that he is not. It is extremely difficult to deny that.

It is the level that he is doing everything at such a young age. It is that desire to see more that makes his ascendancy so clear and inevitable.

Everything he is doing for Germany right now feels like everything he did in Orlando last year and a whole lot more.

He is knifing and driving through the lane with confidence but still under control, able to keep defenders off balance and on his hip. He finishes with flourish and finesse, able to power through with lay-ins over bigger defenders or hit them with floaters as they backtrack through the lane.

When defenders go under screens on him, he punishes them with an improved pull-up 3-point shot. He burned Lithuania several times with that move, just stopping and calmly draining threes.

Wagner is also unafraid of the moment. The Magic knew that after he hit several big shots during the course of his rookie season. But that has been on display throughout EuroBasket and his run with the national team this month.

It has been clear throughout his rookie season and continues to be clear now that Wagner simply makes everyone better just as a threat. But more importantly, it always feels like when the ball is finding him, it means the offense is working and working well.

What has changed in his EuroBasket run is his willingness to attack. He is not merely looking for the easy play all the time. He is more assertive and confident on his drives and comfortable taking shots off the dribble. Adding more of those shots to his game will make him that much more dangerous.

It is hard to say where his ceiling is or what even his role with the Magic might be next year. But Wagner is going to get his due recognition now. Or at least he should.

That was the biggest piece missing from his stellar rookie year. It was so easy for Wagner to fade into the background — especially on a nondescript franchise like the Magic.

Despite making the All-Rookie First Team (all but one voter had him on either of the teams), there was some hand-wringing over whether he would get this deserved reward. The draft class was that good.

And outside Orlando, nobody seemed to understand just how good Wagner was. Even then, despite his success — averaging 15.2 points per game on 51.-7percent effective field goal percentage — it always felt like he could be and should be doing more.

Those who watched Wagner long enough could just sense there was more and that the more he was involved and the more he touched the ball, the better the team would be. Even some of the stats bared that out.

With the whole basketball world watching EuroBasket (sorry AmeriCup), Wagner is growing up in front of everyone.

It is not just his breakout performance Sunday where he carried his team to a lead and control of the game. It is how even his bad games find him scoring in double digits and making meaningful contributions.

Wagner always finds a way to make good things happen. Sunday showed what happens when all the attention is on him and how much the team can grow from his presence and confidence.

There does not seem like any way anyone can slow him down, as the broadcasters opined throughout Wagner’s big run.

There seems like a lot that can translate for Wagner from this run in EuroBasket so far. If this is the new normal for him, then the Magic are going to be getting a much-improved, more confident version of Wagner.

Next. Time to step up: Wendell Carter's passing. dark

And that should get everyone’s attention.