Moe Wagner will help the Orlando Magic to be better

Moritz Wagner of the Orlando Magic reacts (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Moritz Wagner of the Orlando Magic reacts (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic got a welcome boost in last night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, in the form of star rookie Paolo Banchero’s return.

The youngster, having missed the last seven games with an ankle sprain, looked good in the game too, putting up 19 points and assuming his position as the unequivocal offensive focal point for the group.

Less exciting, but in a lot of ways just as important, was the re-introduction of Moe Wagner for the first time this season.

Franz Wagner’s older brother, having suffered an ankle sprain of his own during the preseason, had missed the season to this point, leaving a bit of a hole behind Wendell Carter in the frontcourt. He was thrown into the gauntlet right away, playing 17 minutes, which was more than in four of the five warmup games he appeared in before getting injured.

With injuries continuously attacking the Orlando Magic’s depth, the re-introduction of Moe Wagner will have an important positive impact on the back end of their rotation.

One game is the smallest sample size of all to work with. But in the game, Wagner grabbed five boards. This is more than his career average to date (3.5), but the importance of this number goes beyond that.

So far this season, the Magic have been a top 10 rebounding team (ninth, 44.6 per game), a healthy number which is easily explained by the players that they have. But the team has seen considerable slippage, especially since Wendell Carter started going in and out of the lineup with a plantar fascia strain.

But as we have already discussed, the shock factor of starting Bol Bol and Wendell Carter together has worn off on opponents. They are getting wiser in how to slow this jumbo combination down. So to have Wagner come in and offer a different look while accounting for about 70 percent of the redounding ability of Bol or Carter, is important.

Group rebounding, alongside improved offensive play, is becoming the hallmark of this group.

The elder Wagner is never going to be a scoring menace. That will be left to Banchero and his younger brother. But in terms of effort, rebounding and being a different kind of body to hound opponents, Wagner can tick all of those boxes.

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Although he is a career 31.9-percent 3-point shooter, Wagner made a shot from deep as part of the seven points he contributed Friday. The fact this came on six attempts is less impressive, but it was encouraging to see Wagner come in and take these kinds of shots on.

He is clearly eager to help in any way that he can.

Make no mistake, bringing back Wagner is not a game-changer for the franchise. They are still 5-14, and he will do little to change that. But much like Kevon Harris earlier in the season, he can be a player who sparks energy off the bench. If you look bigger picture, things get interesting.

Right now Mo Bamba, Chuma Okeke (before getting injured) and R.J. Hampton were the three bench players fighting for more minutes. With Okeke out, Wagner can step into his role and minutes quite easily. But when he returns, there will then be an extra player vying for more of an opportunity.

That is without even considering the return of Markelle Fultz (Fultz has started taking jumpers on the court pregame and has rejoined the team’s practices) and Jonathan Isaac.

This will hopefully create healthy competition. But the reality is one, if not two, of these players are going to be left out more than they would like.

Wagner is only 25 years old. He is in the same age bracket as this growing group. He will also be an unrestricted free agent this year. But if Franz Wagner likes having him around and it gets the best out of a guy with All-Star potential, Moe may stick around.

He has been labeled a tweener in the past, and it is still hard to disagree with that statement. Wagner is capable of seeing the court for an extended time, but a lack of consistency and apparent confusion on how best to use him have never been too far behind.

Next to Carter or Bol, he may actually have a new lease on life, as he is undersized for the four but could thrive next to a bigger teammate.

All in all, then, there is no downside to having Wagner back in the rotation. Fans just need to be realistic about what he can do for this group from here on out.

He is definitely capable of seeing 15-20 minutes per night, and it would be interesting to see some of these minutes come with the aforementioned starting bigs.

He keeps Bamba (who is having a career year), Hampton and Okeke honest, and will push them hard for a bigger role. If he shows an improved ability to hound smaller opponents on the ball, as well as do his best next to the bigger guys out there, while improving his 3-point shooting even a touch, then coach Jamahl Mosley will have no choice but to make him a bigger part of his plans.

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Friday night’s loss was another setback, one that makes the idea of tanking once again worth considering. And Banchero’s return was rightly the main talking point.

But in Moritz Wagner, the Magic have another player who can fill in when the injury spirit that haunts them inevitably takes somebody else out of the rotation. He does enough of the little things to have a positive impact.