The moment that stood out for Moe Wagner in the 2023 season was not his finest moment. Not by any stretch.
Wagner has gotten a reputation over the years for needling players and being annoying. He talks a lot. And his game holds up on several levels. But he knows his place in the rotation. He will not back down from anyone who steps up to his team — just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic over the years.
So in a December game in Detroit, Moe Wagner took things a bit too far with a hard foul on Killian Hayes. Hayes did not take kindly to it and the benches cleared, the Magic would have to play the next two games with their players splitting suspensions for leaving the bench.
Wagner never did anything like that. But this was the edge the Magic desperately needed from him. They are a team of hard workers and good players, but not always the kind of players who will stand chest-to-chest with someone when the time calls for it.
Wagner is one of the few players with that kind of an edge. And the willingness to act on it when the time calls for it.
Moe Wagner proved to be a key part of the Orlando Magic’s emotional core as someone willing to get into a srum. He played well too, but his limitations became clear in 2023.
That is not all that Wagner does though. He continued to prove himself a solid offensive player who can score on the interior and on the perimeter. He is flexible enough for the Magic to throw in at a moment’s notice and get production from him.
Wagner arrived in Orlando hanging onto his career and trying to find his footing. He has stayed in Orlando because of his willingness to work hard and his ability to fit in everywhere.
But each year for Wagner seems to be another test for him. He has been playing on a year-to-year contract it seems every season. And he is back on another one. Playing well enough it would seem to secure a place in the NBA — which he certainly has after a really good 2023 season — but not well enough to secure a clear role with the Magic.
Wagner will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. It is not clear whether the Magic will work to retain him or let him loose. It is not clear whether anyone else in the league would value Wagner enough to give him some serious money or the chance for a more consistent role.
Wagner has earned the right to have these questions and force the Magic or some other team to answer them.
He had his best season with the Magic last year averaging 10.5 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 50.0/31.3/84.1. He led the team in charges drawn with 17– outpacing Jalen Suggs for the lead with eight.
Moe Wagner supplanted Mo Bamba for the backup center role after the Magic traded the latter and had a solid finish to the season, averaging 9.2 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Wagner is an excellent screener. He is capable as a scorer around the basket and can step out beyond the arc. He does all these things adequately, but not well enough that it does not seem replaceable.
For all the good and all the intangibles Wagner provided this Magic team, there is still more left to be desired.
According to data from Second Spectrum, no center who played at least 50 games this season had a worse defensive field goal percentage at the rim than Wagner at 75.5 percent. Opponents shot 7.6 percentage points better than expected at the rim against Wagner, according to Basketball-Index.
By the end of the season, coach Jamahl Mosley was deciding seemingly nightly whether to go with Goga Bitadze or Moe Wagner for the backup center role. That does not bode well for Wagner’s future.
When Wagner was rolling, he was an excellent low-post scorer with 3-point range. When he was not rolling, he could at least set screens but he became a difficult player to account for defensively.
In the end, Wagner played well enough to earn a role and be the best of the team’s available options. But he also feels like a clear place where the team can and should seek an upgrade. if the Magic do intend to bring Wagner back, it feels like a player they would bring back at the end of the offseason as the team’s emergency third center.
The Magic probably would like to have him back. But he is simply not a priority for the team with other fish to fry this offseason.
Moe Wagner still had an excellent individual season. He had a nice flash in the pan to close the 2021 season and then did well to establish himself as a solid reserve center in the 2022 season. He confirmed everything that he built with a good 2023 season.
Wagner is a capable scorer and a good positional defender. Wagner benefits well from knowing his role at all times — whether that is the team needing him to score, hang back and set screens or pick a fight. The Magic desperately need a player with a little bit of edge to them. And Wagner provides that.
Still, Wagner has his limitations and the Magic were constantly bumping up against Wagner’s limitations.
He is a player teams are not afraid to attack defensively and if they can get him at the rim, he is not going to provide much resistance. His shooting and scoring are far too inconsistent to rely on, especially for the volume of 3-pointers he typically ends up taking.
Wagner is good in small doses. And one of the issues the Magic ran into this past season was that they needed to rely on him too much. This is the curse of the struggling team. They have to ask more from players than they are capable of giving.
It is safe to say Orlando has gotten the most out of Wagner than anyone probably could. The question is how much more can the team — or any team — squeeze out of him.
Wagner is likely best as the third center. That makes him a low priority for the Magic this offseason. They may ultimately opt to bring him back, but that should not be without also adding another center in free agency.