Moe Wagner can still be the backup center the Orlando Magic need

Moe Wagner helped energize the Orlando Magic on a six-game win streak. He has been clear what will come next. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Moe Wagner helped energize the Orlando Magic on a six-game win streak. He has been clear what will come next. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Throughout the entire offseason, the Orlando Magic have had to wonder how they could improve their roster. There were always several places the team could go to find improvement.

Would they push their chips in for an established veteran to add to their starting lineup? Would they look to shore up their depth? Would they run things back? Would they stick with adding young players?

It turned out Orlando did a lot of the above. They added a veteran shooter in Joe Ingles while adding two rookies in Anthony Black and Jett Black.

The rest of the offseason seemed to focus on continuity. There were not necessarily the swings taken for an upgrade, but rather the same faith the Magic are putting in the players from last year’s roster.

Many suspected Orlando would go after a center in the free agency market to help Wendell Carter out. It seems that they have faith in Moe Wagner and Goga Bitadze to help him and for good reasons.

The Magic opted to retain Bitadze on his team option and are reportedly set to sign Wagner to a two-year, $16-million deal. For Wagner, then, it is a chance to solidify his career and his spot as the team’s backup center after a solid season last year.

With Moe Wagner’s return, the Orlando Magic get a valuable aggressor and really good rebounder to play at center behind Wendell Carter. He may become the backup center that this team needs. 

During the 2023 season, Wagner played in 57 games for the Magic and started in 18 of them. He averaged a career-high 10.5 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. he shot 50.0 percent from the floor and showed hints of an outside shot, hitting 31.3 percent from deep.

Wagner is not always known as a rebounder. But when he was given significant minutes, he came through.

In the games he started, he played seven where he had 30-plus minutes. In six of those seven contents, he had five or more rebounds (he had double figures in three of those six games).

He not only was rebounding the ball on the defensive end at a high rate, but his offensive rebounding was up as well with a 6.0 percent offensive rebound rate. This is barely below the highest mark he has reached in his career.

Wagner ranked in the top 70 percent in the league in most major offensive rebound totals, according to data from Basketball Index, including a contested rebound rate 60.90 percent (meaning a little more than 60 percent of his offensive rebounds were contested).

His defensive rebound rate was also one of the best marks in his five years in the league. He had a 19.4 percent defensive rebound rate. That is not a particularly strong number, but he still rated well as a defensive rebounder even with his limited time.

It shows that if given time on the floor, Wagner can really rebound the ball at a high rate.

He also had the sixth most rebounds on the team (259) while ranking ninth in total minutes on the team (1,109) and all while playing in fewer than 60 games.

A key thing to take note of is how aggressive Wagner can be and how it helps Orlando.

Other than Mo Bamba (who was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers), he had the most personal fouls per 48 minutes at 5.9 and had active hands-on defense drawing in 1.6 steals per 48 min. Quite a good number for a 6-foot-11-inch big man.

Wagner also led the team in charges drawn. Wagner knew he was out there for a short time and was unafraid to mix things up for the Magic. He can be an irritant — just ask Killian Hayes and the Detroit Pistons — and this little edge helps an often quiet Magic team.

Wagner does not back down from anyone. And while he struggles to protect the rim — no center who played at least 50 games had a worse defensive field goal percentage allowed at the rim — he finds ways to make up for it in other ways.

The Magic still had a 110.6 defensive rating with Wagner on the floor, the fifth-best individual mark on the team. Wagner still fit in well with the Magic’s overall defensive scheme despite his shortcomings.

This shows that a lot of the stats that may not be as applicable to one’s game in a good way can be used to show just how impactful Wagner’s aggression leads to him causing opponents to make many mistakes.

This aggressive style of play also helped lead him to achieving a good PIE (Player Impact Estimate) that came to 11.5, this is close to the best of his career and was the fifth-best on the team.

The Magic have invested in a center they trust in for sure. And Wagner has proven himself over and over again as a reliable option for this Magic team.

Re-signing Moe Wagner keeps a center in Orlando who is aware of the culture coach Jamahl Mosley has built. He is a tenacious presence under the rim who can provide good rebounding numbers for the minutes he is given and can even be a defensive spark in place of Orlando’s starting center.

Next. Orlando Magic have to continue running their own race. dark

There will be something of a competition and the Magic may still make some decisions about who to start — the more offensive-minded and crafty Wagner or the brute low-force paint protection from Bitadze. But Wagner has earned his spot and has the inside track to be the team’s backup center.