Orlando Magic Playbook: Where the Orlando Magic go in the clutch

Franz Wagner has had his ups and downs late in games, but is part of the diversity the Magic can lean on to win close games. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Franz Wagner has had his ups and downs late in games, but is part of the diversity the Magic can lean on to win close games. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /
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Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
Mar 11, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) shoots the ball over Miami Heat guard Victor Oladipo (4) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

Where do the Orlando Magic go in the clutch?

Franz Wagner

Franz Wagner was the team’s highest-usage player in the clutch. But he was also by far the most inefficient. He averaged 20.4 points per 36 minutes in clutch situations but shot 38.8 percent from the floor and 20.0 percent from beyond the arc.

That is far from his full-season efficiency — 20.5 points per 36 minutes, 48.5 percent shooting and 36.1 percent from deep.

It is no surprise that efficiency decreases late in games. Defenses tend to tighten up late in games and offenses go into a bit of a stall to try to limit possessions. The end of games get weird. And Wagner’s play is clear in how different it is.

Orlando in a lot of late-game situations likes to run sets like this where they may initiate a pick and roll with a guard, but it is really a trick to clear the lane. What they want is an open and free driving lane for their closers to get downhill.

The Magic are chasing this game, down two to the Los Angeles Lakers with a little more than a minute to go on the road. So there is certainly more urgency in how they are running this set.

Wendell Carter does a good job clearing the path for Cole Anthony to get over. D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves stick with him while Wendell Carter dives down to set up post position.

Anthony does not have the size to see Markelle Fultz wide open in the corner or to get the ball to Wendell Carter with the smaller defender on him. So he goes for the release valve in Wagner on the perimeter.

This is where Wagner is truly at his best. He does not give Anthony Davis a chance to get set and almost immediately attacks the closeout. He avoids the traffic in the lane from Austin Reaves having no one to guard (having abandoned Markelle Fultz in the corner) and Dennis Schroder getting eaten up on Wendell Carter’s screen.

The better play may have been to try to kick out to Fultz here. But Wagner attacks quickly and scores. The spread principle helped him get a head of steam and get downhill.

The problem for Wagner in close game situations comes when he gets overeager and settles for jumpers. That is what he did with the Magic down two and 43.2 seconds to go.

Notice the difference in the setup. This is a simple high pick and roll for Wagner rather than an attack on a close-out. Wagner does not really attempt to get a paint touch and settles for a three, which he misses, putting the Magic in a deeper bind to close this game out.

This is a pattern with Wagner unfortunately. It bled into Germany’s loss to Canada last weekend when Wagner missed two 3-pointers late that would have avoided overtime and iced the game for Germany.

Wagner scored only 0.91 points per possession on pick and rolls as the ball handler last year according to data from NBA.com. So a play like this may make logical sense, but it may not play to Wagner’s strengths.

Then again, Wagner did do this the day before against the LA Clippers.

So who are we to say that is not a shot he should be confident in?

At the end of the day, the end-of-game scenarios are all about making and missing shots. And there is no better example of how you perceive a late-game shot than this. Wagner is capable of hitting these shots. But he is still young and learning when the time is for such shots.

Or finding the right rhythm to take these shots.