Fourth Quarter Franz Wagner becomes Clutch Time Franz Wagner

Franz Wagner has made his name with big fourth quarters. But now he has to develop a clutch streak. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has made his name with big fourth quarters. But now he has to develop a clutch streak. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

It was not a good second half for Franz Wagner or for Germany. They had let a 15-point lead completely evaporate. Their offense was stagnant and out of rhythm. They could not get foul calls as they attacked downhill.

Canada had all the momentum. Germany had all the frustration that any team would have from losing a lead. And that is typically how leads get firmly lost at the end.

Wagner certainly could have shared a lot of that frustration. He struggled to get himself involved and missed the shots he took in the second half to that point with about two minutes left. Germany needed to find answers.

Wagner has stepped up plenty in the fourth quarter. But clutch situations? That has not quite been his forte despite his calm and composure that would seemingly be made for close games. Wagner plays big, but he needs that clutch streak.

Germany was about to find out just how clutch Wagner could be.

Franz Wagner has made his name as a big fourth-quarter performer. But his clutch record with the Orlando Magic is not particularly strong. That looked to change as he prepares for FIBA play.

With Canada down by three points, Germany inbounded from underneath the basket to Wagner cutting smoothly to the lane for a basket. He followed that up the next possession by working a pick and roll with Dennis Schroder before cutting to the lane for a quick layup. Germany had regained a seven-point lead.

Canada is spunky and Germany was still searching for simple offense. They fought their way back tying it at 79.

Out of a timeout, Wagner struck again. Schroder this time found him cutting off a pin down for an open three. Wagner, of course, buried that three comfortably as he shed the frustrations of a rough second half and scored seven of his 18 points in the fourth quarter of an 86-81 win over Canada in a World Cup warmup game in Berlin.

Magic fans know this version of Wagner all too well. They know how Wagner can be frustratingly invisible on offense at times only to have these big bursts of play that make you question why he does not have the ball in his hands more.

And then there are moments like this when he seems to step up at the biggest points of the game — he did this too in Germany’s opening game against Sweden on Saturday where he did a lot of scoring early in the fourth quarter to help Germany pull away.

Fans have given Wagner the “Fourth Quarter Franz” nickname for the several big shots he has taken throughout his career. What he did for Germany is merely a continuation of what Magic fans have known forever.

Hitting that game-winning shot though in the closing minute? That is something everyone is waiting for Wagner to do.

There is just something in Wagner that seems made for these moments. He is always remarked for his calm and composure on the ball. And this shows itself most in the fourth quarter above all else.

Wagner led the Magic with 5.8 points per game in the fourth quarter last season. That was 1.5 points per game more than any other player on the Magic (Paolo Banchero was second with 4.3 points per game and was the only other player to average more than 4.0 points per game in the fourth quarter).

That becomes impressive when you consider the Magic were 10th in the league for the entire season (not since Dec. 7) with a +2.5 net rating in fourth quarters (115.8 offensive rating/113.3 defensive rating). Wagner averaged 9.3 minutes per game in fourth quarters during the 2023 season.

He shot just 43.7 percent in the fourth quarter and 40.5 percent from beyond the arc in fourth quarters. He made 86.4 percent of his 1.5 free throw attempts per game in fourth quarters (he took only 4.0 free throw attempts per game last year).

Wagner, in other words, played a big role in the Magic’s success in the fourth quarter. What he has done in the past two outings to help Germany defeat Sweden on Saturday and Canada on Wednesday is nothing new for him. That is exactly what he does for the Magic.

Wagner is a player who sets the table in the fourth quarter exceedingly well. Where Wagner has to improve then is doing exactly what he did at the end of Wednesday’s game against Canada.

In clutch situations, when the game is within five points in the final five minutes, Wagner averaged 20.4 points per 36 minutes in clutch situations (1.8 points per game). That was just third on the team behind Markelle Fultz (25.7 points per 36 minutes) and Paolo Banchero (24.2 points per 36 minutes).

Wagner shot only 38.8 percent and 20.0 percent from deep in clutch situations. Worse still, then, his 67 field goal attempts in clutch situations were the most on the team. This is why the Magic had the fifth-worst net rating in clutch situations at -9.3 points per 100 possessions (111.1/120.4 offensive/defensive rating split.

Orlando went 19-25 in clutch situations. After Dec. 7, then, the Magic were 16-13 in close games (a sign of how much the Magic really struggled early in the season without a point guard) with a +5.1 net rating (117.4/112.3 offensive/defensive rating split).

Wagner’s game certainly picked up too in these situations. After Dec. 7, Wagner averaged 20.5 points per 36 minutes while shooting 39.5 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.

This was a clear area where Wagner could improve. He was the table setter for the team rather than the closer. And that is fine — Banchero made the biggest improvement late in games. But the Magic want to be able to find a consistent attack late in games.

As good as Wagner is, then, this is one of the many areas he can stand to improve. For as calm and collected as he typically plays, he has execution struggles making shots late in games.

In his rookie year, Wagner averaged 16.9 points per 36 minutes and shot 40.0 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from three. So some uncharacteristic shooting struggles in clutch situations have been part of the story early on in his career.

It is not that Wagner is not capable of making and taking big shots. That is certainly not the case for him. Right now, he has not consistently done so.

The criticism that Wagner does not take enough shots or does not impose himself on the game forcefully enough still lingers with him. And these numbers certainly suggest some of this even though Wagner gets plenty of shots.

So there was Wagner then Wednesday evening in Berlin. He was put in that situation to step up and asked to make a play for his team.

Yes, this was a friendly and did not count to the World Cup ahead or the NBA regular season. But practice makes perfect.

And Wagner did something he always does in dominating the fourth quarter and something he will need to keep developing to do in making clutch shots down the stretch.

Next. 3 reasons the Orlando Magic can rise, 2 reasons they could slide. dark

Wagner has earned the Fourth Quarter Franz moniker. Now he is earning his clutch time credentials.