Franz Wagner becoming perfect number two for Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic find themselves stuck to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and are currently 1-1 during their seven-game homestand. The Sacramento Kings are the latest team to hand the Magic a tough lesson as they continue to build around their young core.

Despite these recent setbacks, it has not been all bad down in Florida. Already it is clear Paolo Banchero is going to be a star, and head coach Jamahl Mosley continues to tinker with his rotations to try and find the necessary solutions to turn these tough losses into some wins.

But there was another star who emerged from the wreckage of Saturday’s overtime loss. And someone who is proving himself to be as good, if not better, than expected.

Franz Wagner has had his ups and downs this season, but he is proving to be a great complement to Paolo Banchero and everything the Magic are building.

Franz Wagner has really established himself as the second option for the franchise, and has settled into the role seamlessly early in the year.

After a wonderful rookie campaign that should have garnered more Rookie of the Year buzz, Wagner has returned in year two and has improved in all of the areas that the organization hoped he would. His play during the EuroBasket tournament in his home country of Germany was an early indication that the Magic were getting a better player this time out.

Many thought it would be hard to build on the 15.2 points per game of his first year in the league, but Wagner has done exactly that.

Right now he is averaging 17.6 points and 4.3 assists (up on the 2.9 from a year ago), and is having a great impact on the offensive side of the court. In fact, when Wagner is in the game, the Magic’s offensive rating is 112.7 points per 100 possessions.

For the year, the Magic sit in 23rd with a rating of 108.9 points per 100 possessions, meaning the Magic jump to the 14th-best offense in the league when Wagner is on the court.

Defensively the team is dropping from 108.9 to 111.9 when he is out there, and while that is not good, it is too soon to expect Wagner not to have any holes in his game and to be a positive influence all over the court. Wagner also plays with many of the Magic’s bench groups which struggle defensively.

He is out there to be an offensive weapon, and he is certainly that.

Preseason beliefs that he could be the number one scoring option were proven to be incorrect after about 15 minutes of seeing Banchero out there. He plays like a veteran on that end, and has a wonderful mix of skill, strength, footwork and a superb ability to put the ball in the basket.

But after a rookie season in which he was an offensive revelation for the organization and fans were delighted to see him on the ball as often as possible, it would have been understandable if Wagner was put out by deferring to Banchero straight away.

Instead, he hasn’t missed a beat, and his usage rate has actually increased from 21.2 in year one, to 24.1 in year two. Especially since the Magic are playing Wagner as essentially their lead point guard, a role he has struggled some with but has steadily improved upon.

To prove that point, Banchero got a lot of the accolades for his 33-point, 16-rebound game Saturday. But Wagner was more than complementary, scoring 31 points himself and hitting some big shots to help the Magic take a late lead in the fourth quarter and climb back into the game in the fourth quarter and regulation.

This makes Wagner the perfect foil for Banchero. Somebody who can get into the paint in different ways than his teammate, and has a more crafty and swift way of getting to the spots that he wants to.

If Banchero is the ideal mix of strength and elegance, Wagner hurts opponents with trickery and movement.

The only real negative is that Wagner has shot 21.4 percent from deep on 4.2 attempts so far this season. But even that can be turned into a positive, as Wagner has increased his scoring output and offensive impact, despite being a non-factor from beyond the arc. He shot a much more respectable 35.4 percent from 3-point range last season, and a return to that would be huge.

It might be a strange comparison to make, but Franz Wagner has the makings of a Khris Middleton type for the Magic. Paolo Banchero certainly has a far more diverse offensive game than the rampaging Giannis Antetokounmpo, but as opponents key in on him more in close games, it will be up to others to step in and make some shots.

Middleton has done this for the Milwaukee Bucks for years, doing some of the few things that Antetokounmpo cannot. Wagner can be the release valve for Banchero, and although he already does not do anything better offensively than Banchero, Wagner is still a reliable scoring threat after a fantastic rookie season and has already improved upon that.

Getting a star to Orlando was the big thing they needed to kick their prolonged rebuild into action. They have that in Banchero, so now it is about filling out the other key pieces of the roster.

Having a high-level point guard and an established sixth man are just two other roles that they will have to cement as time goes on.

But in terms of a second player with legitimate All-Star potential, the Magic now possess that in Wagner. The 3-point shooting is sure to improve, and the handle and command of the court already look better.

Next. A long homestand gives Orlando Magic hope for some health. dark

Put simply Wagner looks like the low-maintenance, do-a-bit-of-everything player who has slotted in perfectly as the franchise’s long-term second option.