2022 Orlando Magic Time To Step Up: Franz Wagner’s pull-up 3-pointers

Franz Wagner has emerged this season and could be a featured player for an Orlando Magic team trying to build its culture. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has emerged this season and could be a featured player for an Orlando Magic team trying to build its culture. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

The enduring image from what has become a wild quarterfinal at FIBA EuroBasket came from Franz Wagner in Germany’s surprising win over Greece.

In the third quarter, Franz Wagner ran a pick and roll and got Giannis Antetokounmpo switched onto him. Wagner, as he did throughout the NBA season, showed no fear and showed no hesitation as he got into his attack. What changed was how quickly he set up his shot.

Wagner rocked Antetokounmpo to sleep a bit before stepping back into a 3-pointer before Antetokounmpo could react. It was eyepopping that Wagner would do that to one of the best defenders in the world with so much on the line.

And this was actually the second time he did that in this game.

It was a gorgeous step-back opportunity and play and a sign of his growing confidence. The kind of confidence that has been overflowing throughout the tournament.

Franz Wagner is already showing improved confidence as a 3-point shooter. Not just as a catch-and-shoot option, but as a pull-up and off-the-dribble shooter. The Orlando Magic forward could have already made a step up.

Except this was not something abnormal for him. Wagner’s confidence has been among the highlights of Germany’s EuroBasket run. And it is best exemplified in this step-back and pull-up shooting from Wagner.

While many Magic fans have focused on Wagner’s ability and usage creating off the dribble in pick and rolls or as a main initiator on offense, the real focus for Wagner appears to be on improving his efficiency as a shooter and his overall shotmaking.

The results are hard to argue against considering his EuroBasket run.

If he has taken this kind of leap as a shot maker and an outside shooter, things are going to change quickly for Wagner. He has shown he can rack up points quickly and in bunches just by doing this.

It may be counterintuitive, but the way to get more out of Wagner might be to let him hover around the 3-point line without the ball, being a constant threat until it swings to him and he can make a play and score.

That is not to say Wagner is not already great at this part of the game.

After averaging 15.2 points per game as a rookie with shooting splits of 46.8/35.4/86.3, everyone seemed to believe the places for his game to grow was in his ability to attack and create.

He made 58.3-percent of his shots on a team-high 5.9 field goal attempts within five feet last year. He was very good at getting to the basket. On drives, he scored a team-high 6.4 points per game on 9.1 drives per game, according to data from Second Spectrum.

In pick an rolls, the Magic scored 0.85 points per possession with Wagner as the ball handler according to data from NBA.com. That is perhaps the only area Wagner coudl improve. The team is not running him in a ton of isolations — that is not a big part of their offense.

But as a shooter, Wagner showed promise and areas he could clearly improve.

Wagner scored 1.01 points per possession on spot-up opportunities last year. He hit 37.7 percent of his catch and shoot 3-point opportunities. Where he struggled was he made just 32.4 percent of his pull-up opportunities.

And, of special note, Wagner essentially shot at the rim or from beyond the arc. He took only 39 mid-range field goal attempts, making only 30.8 percent of those shots.

Quite simply, Wagner could still improve his efficiency as a three-point shooter and his off-the-dribble game.

According to data from Basketball Index, Wagner was in the bottom third of the league in 3-point shot making. And while he still rates out well overall for his perimeter shooting (he is in the 79th percentile), taking into account his 3-point shot making and 3-point shot creation, it is still an area where he can improve.

Just think of it this way: Wagner was taking fairly difficult 3-pointers all season (only 20.9 percent of his 3-pointers were open last year according to Basketball Index), made all of his 3-pointers at a decent but not stellar clip and was not much for getting himself open looks even though he showed the potential to do so — think that big 3-pointer in the December win over the Denver Nuggets.

All of that is part of the equation of a young player who has plenty of 3-point potential and the opportunity to make and create his own shot but was still not able to hit them regularly.

Shooting with more efficiency from deep has the chance to unlock his game completely, perhaps opening the door to those other parts Magic fans have been clamoring for.

Wagner has a lot of skills and they were all on display in his rookie year. But they were also simple shots — drives to the basket or simple spot-ups. Where he could improve is in manipulating the defense for better shots and setting himself up for shots from beyond the arc.

This is where he has been most promising during his run in EuroBasket.

In Germany’s run to the semifinals of EuroBasket — their next game is Friday against perennial power Spain and Wagner and Germany will get at least one additional game Sunday — Wagner is averaging 16.3 points per game with shooting splits of 52.6/51.5/93.8.

Those are insanely efficient numbers. And while most Magic fans might complain sometimes that Wagner is not on the ball enough or involved enough offensively — especially in the loss to Slovenia in group play — Wagner is still Germany’s second-leading scorer.

He may not be the engine driving penetration or initiating offense, but it is hard to argue he is not getting his shots. Wagner has taken the second-most field goal attempts per game on the team at 11.1. He is getting plenty of shots and making the most of them.

That, despite the feeling he was not involved enough last year, was also the case in the NBA for his rookie year. Franz Wagner took 12.3 field goal attempts per game last year for the Magic, trailing only Cole Anthony for most field goal attempts per game.

What is different is that the diet of Wagner’s shots is not typically what anyone sees from a star. He is not getting his shots through isolations or through massive usage rates. He is getting them by attacking when the opportunity is there or by hitting spot-up threes.

By becoming more efficient and better at the things he is already good at, he could greatly raise his scoring average and open up space for other players. That is how Germany has gotten so many open threes and been a threat even when it feels like Wagner is not involved — and maybe why Germany struggled to put Montenegro away after Wagner left with an injury.

Wagner is a constant threat offensively even if he is not always on the ball.

Everyone around the league should know this — if not, EuroBasket has put everyone on notice. Even as a rookie, Wagner had a 0.81 scoring gravity rating, putting him in the top fifth in the league. Everyone knows how dangerous Wagner is as a shooter.

If he becomes a more effective and efficient creator of his own shot and more efficient burying threes as he has shown in EuroBasket, then that will unlock a whole bunch of doors for him and his teammates.

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So far, it looks like he has made that step. And if Wagner is able to hit from the outside with this kind of consistency, confidence and creation in the NBA, he is about to make a major step up.