2023 Orlando Magic Player Outlook: Franz Wagner aims to make the second-year jump

Franz Wagner was impressive with the variety he showed on offense throughout his rookie year. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner was impressive with the variety he showed on offense throughout his rookie year. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Experience is a powerful tool in player improvement.

As the Orlando Magic saw last year with Cole Anthony, jumping up 3.4 points per game, 1.6 assists and 0.7 rebounds per game, he entered his second season more poised and ready to make a major contribution. That played itself out on the floor. It is hard to argue the steps he took, even as his hot streak faded down the stretch.

This is something rookies typically experience. They know their way around the NBA schedule better and their place on a team is a bit more secure thanks to the promise their rookie year showed.

A second-year jump is crucial in a player’s progression. This normally dictates who is on their way to stardom and who is on their way to average.

A bump up in statistics and expectations is not merely normal, it is expected.

Franz Wagner had a stellar rookie year that turned a lot of heads. The goal for him will be to turn a whole lot more heads as the Orlando Magic eagerly wait his second season in the league.

Franz Wagner had an outstanding rookie season last year. That season tantalized what was to come. The eighth pick in the 2021 Draft recorded 15.2 points per game, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game on top of some amazing defense.

This is exactly what a team is looking for out of its lottery pick. But the expectations for him are simply sky-high now because of what he was able to do.

His performance at EuroBasket for Germany, where he helped his national team reach the semifinals, has only added to the excitement for Wagner’s second year.

Although Wagner performed greatly in his rookie year, there are plenty of areas to improve, and areas where he already did well but could be even better.

Wagner has the tools, skills and size to be a top player in the league, he just needs to show it on the court this year.

He does not need to be a superstar in year two, but a step in the right direction is all the organization and Magic fans need to see to know they made the right pick.

Wagner stood out in a big way in his rookie year because of his offensive efficiency.

He shot 46.8 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from three equating out to a 51.7-percent effective field goal percentage (12th among rookies who played at least 20 minutes per game, which included some late-season and COVID fill ins) and a 55.9-percent true shooting percentage (ninth among rookies).

All that left everyone wanting more from Wagner. And perhaps that is the biggest thing everyone wants to see from him. If EuroBasket is any indication he can scale up his efficiency even with a greater workload and usage rate.

For someone who shoots so efficiently, you would think the team wants to see him put up more shots.

He shot 12.3 times per game, which was second on the Magic. It never felt that way though. it always felt like the Magic went away from Wagner at key moments as their offense struggled.

To show his leadership, it would be great to see him up that number. If he wants to be an elite scorer and a 20-point-per-game scorer, he needs to be confident enough to take matters into his own hands.

Players who scored at least 20 points per game this season took an average of 18.8 shots per game, with the lowest being 15.2. So he really needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end sometimes looking to force his way in. That is still the biggest critique he faces.

Although he is quite efficient, he was not very efficient in one area and that is the mid-range. He shot just 28 percent from mid-range on fewer than 100 mid-range attempts. If he can bring that up his scoring will surely increase.

This is mostly because he is mainly a catch-and-shoot guy and is good at driving and cutting to the rim. Only 4.4 of his shots came from isolation, and 2.4 came from post-ups. He is a tall small forward and has great length so this should be something he is working on in the offseason.

If he can become a better isolation player and work on his dribble moves and one on one moves then he can be an all-around elite scorer.

On pull-ups, he shot just 34.2 percent. For players who took at least 150 pull-ups that is 15th worst. This is another area he can clearly improve — and perhaps already has improved.

For Wagner, everything is about scaling up more. And that is a big part of what the Magic want to see in his second season. That can be clearly seen in his 3-point shooting too.

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He took 3.4 threes per game and made just 97 on the season. Surpassing that 100 mark next season would be another good sign of improvement.

Twenty point-per-game scorers took an average of 6.5 threes per game. Wagner already hits them at a very high rate, so he needs to be shooting more to reach that level. Again, EuroBasket is a good sign of his growing confidence from deep where he has been deadly efficient from deep.

But this is still a work in progress.

One of the biggest things holding him back from being an elite player and scorer is his ability to get to the line.

He shot an outstanding 86.3 percent from the line in his first year but only did it on 2.8 attempts per game. This means he went to the line once or twice per game. For someone who is so tall and lengthy and such a terrific free throw shooter, you would love to see him get to the line more.

If he can master the art of drawing fouls and get to the line more while keeping up his tremendous free throw shooting then he can easily surpass the 20-point per game mark. 20-point-per-game scorers shot an average of 5.7 free throws per game.

Wagner’s biggest potential for growth is on offense where he is already a gifted player. That is what has the Magic excited about his second year.

Most second-year players have more comfort on offense. But his defense was also pretty advanced. And this is an area he can continue to grow.

There is not too much more you can ask for from Wagner on the defensive end besides slight improvement. But that kind of improvement could turn him into an all-defensive team player.

He was already a top small forward defender in the league in just his first year. He had the ninth-best defensive field goal percentage in the league and third among small forwards.

An All-Defensive team may be in his future as he continues to grow.

Defense is one of Wagner’s strengths but he can improve his rebounding.

For a 6-foot-10 small forward with a 7-foot-plus wingspan he should be able to go in and grab tons of boards. He averaged 4.5 rebounds per game which was tied for 19th among small forwards.

Now 19th is not bad, but he is the tallest small forward in the top 20. This may have to do with him getting back on defense and guarding a lot of perimeter shots or playing a lot of minutes alongside Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba. With the potential for the Magic to split their centers more, the Magic will need Wagner to be a more aggressive rebounder.

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Yet another way Wagner will have to step his game up and scale up with more usage.

Winning the rebound game is a key part to winning games in general. Most of the time the team that out-rebounds the other team is the one that wins. If he can be more aggressive when he is not the one contesting the shot, then he can open up so much for the Magic.

Especially considering he is a strong enough ball handler to take the ball up the court himself or dish it quickly to start the fast break.

The Magic thrive in transition due to their young athletic core, and Wagner has the scoring ability and the playmaking ability to make the right decision. The Magic were 29th in offensive rating last year, so getting them out in transition more and getting them more easy buckets could help the team’s success so much.

Wagner’s overall goal for his second season is to make that second-year leap to put him on the path to stardom.

He should really look to increase his scoring while maintaining his efficiency. Defensively, he will have to improve his rebounding and continue his positive growth on that end.

These improvements will directly translate to the Magic in the winning column and not only make him better as a player, but also make the team better and state his case as a top player in this league.

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From the looks of his first season, there is no doubt in the organization’s mind, and the fans’ minds, that he can continue to get better and reach these goals, and who knows maybe the All-Rookie first-teamer has All-NBA potential.