The underrated interior importance of Franz Wagner

Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic reacts after scoring a three-point basket (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic reacts after scoring a three-point basket (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

It is no secret Franz Wagner has been critical to the Orlando Magic’s modest success this season. Alongside rookie Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner has formed a fearsome duo who are an offensive threat to every team they face.

Better yet, Wagner seems to have a real understanding of his place in the hierarchy of the group, and on a nightly basis looks as comfortable as any player on the roster on the court.

He gets his chance to run some plays, is brilliant as an off-the-ball cutter and is capable of scoring from all three zones.

Yet unexpected as it may seem, Franz Wagner’s presence in the paint for the Orlando Magic is more important to their success than anyone could think.

On the surface it does not look like this is the case.

Wagner’s older brother, Moe Wagner, is a far bigger player, and is able to handle himself against large opponents. Franz Wagner on the other hand, although tall, is not particularly physically imposing. He is capable of following smaller guards around the perimeter, and is not afraid to hold his own inside. But a bruiser he is not.

When we think of the players who make a difference in the paint for the organization, Wendell Carter tops the list. He is everything you would want in a young big. Mo Bamba and Bol Bol are not far behind, although it is their length and how they can block shots and recover to alter shots that is their greatest asset.

Which makes this stat such a pleasant surprise to read:

For Wagner to rank so highly here (in a fluid category that admittedly is going to change often), is such a boost for the franchise.

The Magic rank a poor 26th in defensive rating so far this season (114.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). The way they leak points it is hard to see them getting to even league average by the time the regular season wraps up.

Yet when Wagner is on the court that number becomes a much more respectable 111.5, which would actually put the Magic a small margin above league average.

During the team’s current homestand, where they have gone 3-1, Orlando’s defense has taken a big leap though. The Magic are giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions. The team is giving up 104.7 points per 100 possessions with Wagner on the floor in that same time.

Nobody thinks of Wagner as a difference-maker on the defensive end in the paint when he is on the court, yet as the graphic above shows, the Magic are eight percent worse off in terms of restricting the field goal percentage of opponents when he is on the bench.

There is no doubt the group are missing their starting center in Carter at the moment. Even more so when you consider he ranks higher than Wagner on this list.

So for Wagner to have this kind of impact defensively in his second season is not being talked about enough.

Think about where the Magic would be on that end without him. Next time you watch him play, keep an eye out for how he uses his high IQ and footwork to have an impact inside to a level that he really shouldn’t.

Offensively we already know what he is capable of, and he may even have an outside shot at making the All-Star game as early as this season. But his paint penetration leads all second years players so far this season.

With the Magic ranking 20th in 3-point shooting percentage (34 percent) and 25th in offensive rating (109.5), the team have relied heavily on Wagner’s interior scoring.

Returning to why he works so well with Banchero, and it is his ability to slither and move inside while the bigger-bodied Banchero gets to work around the constantly moving Wagner which has helped the Magic to three straight wins. Wagner is stronger than we realize in how he can drive to the basket, but really he has built his interior scoring on much more than that.

No matter where this season ultimately ends up for the Magic, Franz Wagner’s importance in the paint on both ends needs to be appreciated more. He is as good a sophomore as there is in the league today, and the franchise are lucky to have him.

There is an interesting conversation to be had about whether or not you would rather have Wagner or reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who is going through a difficult period with the Toronto Raptors this season.

dark. Next. Would you rather trade or start Cole Anthony?

To have that kind of interior impact, and to achieve it while it has flown under the radar, means we can begin to talk to talk about him as the best two-way player on the roster. With that sort of defensive output, and an offensive game that is improving at a rapid rate, there is no limit to have impactful Wagner can be.