Why did the Orlando Magic want to see Franz Wagner play in EuroBasket? Why was it important to get him these reps in this international tournament? What more could the Magic learn in this setting that they did not learn last year during a stellar rookie season?
The answers to all those questions were on full display Wednesday as Germany stunned Greece 107-96 in the quarterfinals of EuroBasket.
The Magic wanted to see Wagner’s skills grow in pressure games with real stakes. They wanted to see his toughness to push through and help his team win. They wanted to see quite simply how he would respond to the pressure of an elimination game.
With so many of the world’s best players playing in this showcase tournament, they wanted to see how he measured up.
Franz Wagner continues to measure up to the best players in the world as he was critical for Germany to advance to the semifinals of EuroBasket with a win over Greece.
There are still a lot of things for this 21-year-old forward to work on to reach his potential. He is not Luka Doncic or Giannis Antetokounmpo yet. But it is hard not to come away from his play this tournament and think he is not developing into something special.
Something really special.
Wagner continues to show he belongs on the world stage among the best. He is not just some role player or a player who took advantage of a favorable situation to put in empty stats. If anything, Wagner is putting up strong numbers and still needs the ball more.
Wagner scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting including five 3-pointers to help Germany with the win. He went into his bag on several occasions, but he was comfortable shooting step-back threes, including burying one over Antetokounmpo in the midst of a 20-1 start to the third quarter for Germany.
Germany was feeling it, making 17 of 31 three-pointers to pull off the upset. They made eight of their first 10 from beyond the arc to take the early lead. It was a dream start.
And Germany just kept the pressure going on throughout.
This was as big a test for Germany as it was for Wagner. But Orlando learned a lot about their young forward.
Wagner suffered what appeared to be a severe ankle sprain in the third quarter of Germany’s win over Montenegro coming down from a 3-point shot. He was a game-time decision before this critical game.
Even with what appeared to be a severe injury, it seemed like it would take a lot for Wagner to miss this game considering how much was on the line. As much as Magic fans fretted over their star player going through a major injury, this game was too big for him to miss.
And so that was the first test. With so much on the line, the Magic could clearly see Wagner is willing to go through pain and play. He was going to help his team win if he could.
With so much on the line, Wagner still played smart. But going off the adrenaline, it was clear Wagner could make a huge impact.
Wagner started the game with a step-back three, showing no ill effects of his injury. But he still was fairly conservative with his attacks. He had a few forays to the basket, including an odd-angled runner off the backboard in the second quarter.
If there was a moment where Germany made clear the team was going to push back against Greece, it came from Wagner in the second quarter.
With Giannoulis Larentzakis getting under everyone’s skin — including Franz Wagner’s for a time — Wagner broke through with a spin move for a jam. That released a lot of energy and confidence. Not to mention seemed like proof that Wagner was healthy enough to play.
But Wagner largely kept to the perimeter. And he was still really effective.
There was the step-back over Antetokounmpo (he had two of them, one in the first and the one that made the Internet buzz in the third quarter). He hit other kick-out threes confidently too. There was very little hesitation for Wagner, other than perhaps some lack of movement and motion to set him up and noticeably few pick and roll opportunities.
It is this confidence that has Magic fans buzzing and has allowed Wagner to put up some strong scoring lines. It is why Magic fans are seemingly so confident Wagner is ready for a breakout season — and why several NBA observers watching EuroBasket are starting to come to the same conclusion.
Wagner put up a strong 15.2 points per game on shooting splits of 46.8/35.4/86.3. This tournament has seen Wagner step up his play in all the ways the Magic used him last year.
Franz Wagner has not been a main offensive attacker — that has still fallen to team captain Dennis Schroder. But still the ball has found its way to Wagner and he has made opponents pay for staying off him. As even the broadcasters continually note, teams are eyeing Wagner and aware of him off the ball.
Wagner makes good things happen. And it remains a feeling that Wagner could do a whole lot more and be a whole lot more involved.
This despite the fact he is averaging 16.3 points per game on shooting splits of 52.6/51.5/93.8. He is doing this on just 11.1 field goal attempts per game while upping his 3-point frequency to 4.7 attempts per game (he took only 3.4 3-pointers per game as a rookie last year).
That is coming in a much smaller sample size and obviously outside the NBA. But if he does what he did last year for the Magic with this kind of lethal efficiency, it may not matter whether he is the primary scorer. Wagner is doing everything he did for Orlando as a first-team all-rookie player but better.
That is kind of what you expect from a second-year player. Wagner has just gotten better.
What those stats do not capture then is the stakes that he is doing them under. He is playing a big role on a team competing for a championship. And that is something the Magic were not going to be able to measure in Orlando. At least, it would appear, not for a few years.
Wagner is standing out on a big stage. It is getting harder for the wider basketball world to ignore him. He continues to put in strong showings that seem easily replicable while hinting at much more to his game.
Germany needed Wagner to have a chance in this one. Greece was the prohibitive favorite in this game and perhaps for the entire tournament with Antetokounmpo leading the way.
Wagner was a big reason why Germany shut the door on that opportunity. And he has all tournament long in this debut run with his national team, Wagner keeps telling the world how much of a factor he will be.
Germany move son to face perennial power Spain in Friday’s semifinal. The win also guarantees Germany will get another game either for the gold medal or to compete for the bronze medal on Sunday.