Two seasons in, Franz Wagner looks like one of the more complete players in the 2021 draft class. And the Orlando Magic know this.
Much has been written about the huge upside he has. The expectations for Wagner have increased and he has become a pillar for this franchise and its seemingly bright future.
It is almost impossible to describe the home run the Magic hit by drafting Wagner with the eighth overall pick. At the time many thought it was a reach, but now it looks like the best value in the draft.
When describing Wagner’s game, the word balanced comes up a lot. He is versatile, especially on offense, with the ability to be the pick-and-roll ball handler, the screener for pick-and-pop threes, and the downhill creator with elite finishing ability.
Wagner is capable of fitting anywhere on an offense and when your universal puzzle piece is 6-foot-10 you have something special.
Franz Wagner is quickly developing into one of the budding stars on the Orlando Magic. But even he has an area he can improve — his ability to get to the line and become even more efficient.
Following up on an impressive rookie campaign, Wagner averaged 18.6 points per game this past season on 48.5 percent shooting and 36.1 percent from three.
These stats are impressive on their own, but even better with context. His usage rate was 23.5 percent, much lower than players turning out similar numbers, and he had a true shooting percentage of 58.9 percent, among the most efficient high-volume scorers in his rookie class.
Simply put, Wagner gets his numbers without dominating the ball. He picks his spots, is patient, and lets the game come to him.
This can be a double-edged sword. The Magic love that their young star already has the wherewithal to play unselfishly and fit within an offense. Other teams would love for their guy to have the basketball maturity that Wagner has.
On the flip side, the Magic would benefit from Wagner being in attack mode a little bit more. This is most reflected by his free throw attempts.
Through two seasons in the league, Wagner is averaging 3.4 free throw attempts per game. Taking just his sophomore campaign, he attempted 4.0 per game. Both of those are low considering the amount of drives and field goal attempts Wagner has.
Those 4.0 free throw attempts per game put him squarely in the middle among players who averaged at least 14.0 field goal attempts per game. It makes you wonder just how much more he could score if he were getting to the line or drawing fouls more.
Franz Wagner led the team in field goal attempts but attempted 200 fewer free throws than his counterpart Paolo Banchero. In fact, Banchero averaged 7.4 free throws per game, finishing 10th in the league in that category.
This more than made up for Banchero’s inefficiencies on offense and allowed him to keep his consistent rookie-of-the-year scoring numbers.
That might be an unfair comparison. Banchero is a free-throw generating machine. He alone helped the Magic finish fifth in the league in free throw rate after barely clearing the top five in any season of the previous decade.
Getting to the foul line is an important part of the Magic’s offensive attack. And so it is a bit odd that the team’s biggest shooter is not getting to the line, as efficient as he can be.
If Wagner could pair his efficient offensive attack with more free throw attempts, he could see his scoring number approach the high 20s. And being an 85.0-percent career free throw shooter, this should be a simple fix.
Last season, Wagner had 25 games of two free throws or fwer, more than a quarter of his 80 games played. Judging by his other numbers, this means either Wagner is not getting a favorable whistle or he is shying away from contact on finishes.
Maybe it is a little bit of both. There is no way a player who makes his money in the paint should only be going to the line once or twice in a whole game.
Wagner’s shooting numbers on drives and near the rim are other areas where he can improve. And some of that might just come from seeking out and playing through contact then sometimes trying to work around contact with the flourishing finishes he has.
Wagner averaged 10.8 drives per game last year according to tracking data from NBA.com, the second-most on the team. He shot 49.7 percent on those drives and averaged only 1.3 free throw attempts per game off his drives. That is the eighth fewest free throw attempts per game among all players who averaged 10.0 drives per game (Markelle Fultz also had a precious few 0.9 free throw attempts per game off his team-high 12.0 drives per game).
Banchero, as a point of comparison, averaged 10.0 drives per game, shot 44.7 percent on those drives and shot 2.7 free throw attempts per game (he scored 6.5 points per game off drives compared to Wagner’s 7.2 points per game off drives).
Wagner made 65.1 percent of his team-high 5.1 field goal attempts in the restricted area for the Magic last year. But just 41.1 percent of his 3.4 field goal attempts in the paint outside of the restricted area.
This is an area for clear improvement and where learning how to draw some contact and get to the foul line more could increase his efficiency and make him even more dangerous getting to the rim where he loves to operate.
As Wagner continues to gain more notoriety around the league, he should get more of a “superstar” whistle. Whether this right or not, it is how the NBA works.
Wagner is also more comfortable with creative finishes around the rim, avoiding contact for a higher percentage look. He uses his strides to instinctively Euro-step around defenders, using his length and footwork to his advantage. He’s also no stranger to a little running hook or floater.
These may create better looks, but they do not always draw more fouls.
Wagner is really good at weaving through traffic. That is what makes him special. But it is easy to see how that can sometimes get him in trouble. Knowing when to explode through contact or weave around it is part of his growth.
Finishing through contact will come more naturally as he grows older. Wagner is only 21 years old and is continuing to add muscle to his lean frame. Being 6-foot-10 opens up the possibility of an increased post-up game as he matures, which should open up more free throw attempts.
There is not much to nit-pick Wagner on. But more free-throw attempts could take him to the next stratosphere as a player. It could be the difference between him being a 1- or 2-time All-Star to a 10-plus-time All-Star.
Young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum saw their games hit the next level when they got to the line more. In Gilgeous-Alexander’s case, he attempted 5.1 free throws per game in his second season. Now he is up to 10.9 and averaging more than 30 points per game.
In Wagner’s career-best 38 points against the Milwaukee Bucks, he attempted 10 free throws. When he scored 34 on the Toronto Raptors last season, he attempted eight free throws.
These types of games can be a weekly occurrence if Wagner makes this a priority this upcoming season.
Wagner has it in him and the Magic know the diamond they are sitting on. The league is about to find out.